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Re/mediating Revolution: Cultivating Solidarity in a Queer Cuban Community

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Abstract

Based on fifteen months of ethnographic research, this dissertation explores how the latest political and economic “update” of Cuban socialism is experienced, interpreted and re/mediated in the work of artists at “the Concoction” (El Mejunje), one of the oldest LGBT cultural centers in Cuba, located in the city of Santa Clara. After the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, the infrastructures of universal provisioning of the Cuban socialist welfare state broke down. The delivery of goods and services by the state became increasingly scarce and shaped by arrhythmic waiting. Art became one of the central affective means by which ordinary Cubans participated, debated, critiqued, and made sense of this changing political economic reality. The everyday struggle (lucha) for acquiring goods and services, constitutive of the lived experience of post-Soviet socialism in Cuba, drastically intensified as socialism was updating on the Island – a process which formally started in 2010 and led to the approval of a new socialist constitution in 2019. In this dissertation, I posit that artists in Cuba play central roles in moments of transition, during the so-called Special Period of the 90s and the current socialist update. They act as mediators, through different artistic mediums, between an increasingly faltering revolutionary state and the Cuban people.

The Concoction emerged out of the political urgency of the Special Period, queering revolutionary ideology by problematizing multiple forms of marginalization and exclusion within the cultural politics of the Cuban Revolution, including (but not limited to) its hyper masculine heteronormative canons. I illustrate how, within the open community of the Concoction, the everyday lived experience of struggle in post-Soviet socialist Cuba is transformed into art, and how in turn art provides for an affective infrastructure that makes life livable and meaningful within and outside of Santa Clara. In the wake of ‘disasters,’ from hurricane Irma to Covid-19, artists at the Concoction cultivate forms of solidarity that activate people as a form of infrastructure, remediating for the lack of food, electricity, or medicines through their performances. By engaging with the past and present of this queer community, I argue that over the last thirty-five years, the Concoction have been functioning as a ‘good enough space’ to reconstitute revolutionary feelings in the midst of political disillusionment.

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This item is under embargo until December 13, 2023.