Challenging the Patriarchal and Racist Ideologies of the History of Photography: What it Takes To Get it Right.

Aldeide Delagdo in conversation with artists during Building a Feminist Archive Cuban Women Photographers, 2019 Photo by Diana Larrea
Aldeide Delgado at Building a Feminist Archive, Cuban Women Photographers in the US, 2019. Photo Diana Larrea.

Art was always in my home because my uncle, a former helmsman, is a self-taught painter and sculptor. We had many of his paintings; including a mural painted across the walls of my first bedroom, filled with cartoon characters from different cultures around the world. On my seventh birthday, he gave me a catalog featuring connections between Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States, through the analysis of the Harlem Renaissance period. Where did he buy it? I didn’t know, but at that moment, I only became fascinated by the hundred works presented in the book. Thirteen years later, while I was studying Art History at university, I was surprised to find artists such as James Van Der Zee, Doris Ulmann, Edna Manley, Jacob Lawrence, and Charles Alston referenced in this book I still have with me.

On the spectrum between spontaneity and premeditation I am kind of both. I try to plan every step I take in my life but, also, I leave room for the unexpected to occur. I always follow my instincts and trust in the energy of every situation, place, and people.

The Catalog is the first project to comprehensively collate the works of Cuban women photographers spanning the 19th century through the present. I created the Catalog of Cuban Women Photographers (Catálogo de Fotógrafas Cubanas) in 2013, at a time when studies about photography, gender, and feminism were scarce in Cuba. It consists of an ongoing online archive of visual media and art historical scholarship on the women who contributed to the development of Cuban photography, the historical conditions of their artistic participation, and the main themes in their works. Specifically, the Catalog website hosts artist profile pages, which feature short professional biographies, artist statements, and a selection of 15 images from their portfolios. Notably, the Catalog project was the first effort to rescue Cuban art historical texts that ranged in subject matter from exploring the relationships between gender and art, feminism and art, and photography and gender, as well as monographic studies of various women photographers.

After spending five years working on the Catalog, I founded the nonprofit organization Women Photographers International Archive (WOPHA) in 2018. It began as a dynamic database showcasing the unique stories of women-identified Cuban photographers. As the primary aim of the Catalog was to locate, document, and acknowledge gaps in information on Cuban women photographers, WOPHA intentionally expands these efforts to an international scale, creating a space to research, promote, support, and educate on the role of women in the photographic arts. WOPHA has a strong focus on historical research, producing rigorous academic content with particular emphasis on the diverse artistic production of Latin American and Latinx communities, including photographers from Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and artists of Latin American descent living and working in the United States.

Living in Miami. I immigrated to Miami in 2016, adapting to life in a city that exists as a ‘third space’ (as developed by Chicana feminist poet and theorist, Gloria Anzaldúa) where people from multiple nationalities converge, languages cross-pollinate and are revitalized. According to Anzaldúa, a ‘third space’ is where a new consciousness that is defined by multiples identities emerges. Originally, as Anzaldúa refers to the borderland between Mexico and the US (notably in her semi-autobiographical book “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza”, published in 1987) I extrapolate her notion and interpret Miami as a border space or a ‘third space’, between the Americas. The mission and vision behind WOPHA are directly a result of me identifying with the unique diasporic character of the city of Miami. Embracing the multifaceted political dimensions of this borderland, I strive to challenge the patriarchal and racist ideologies of the history of photography.

Aldeide Delagdo at Solid Abstraction. Miami Biennale. 2018. Courtesy Pedro Avendaño
Aldeide Delgado with Dr. Jonathan Choukroun and artists Adrienne Chadwick, Yucef Merhi, and Rodolfo Peraza, at the opening of Solid Abstraction, Disobedience Strategies in Contemporary Cuban Art at Miami Biennale, 2018. Photo Pedro Avendaño.

Curating disobedience. I’m always thinking about how I can offer something useful for a larger discussion or debate. For example, in the group exhibition “Solid Abstraction: Disobedience Strategies in Contemporary Cuban Art” in 2018, at the  Miami Biennale, I wanted to curate a show about contemporary Cuban abstraction that questions the nature of abstract art itself: an exhibition that was more about the intellectual thinking about abstraction and its current potentialities, and less so a chronological or thematic claim about its development. Inspired by the exhibition “Es solo lo que ves” (an exhibition on abstraction that never came to fruition, but manifested itself in the street rumor in Havana, in December 1988/January1989), that was organized in reaction to governmental censorship and crackdown against a group of artists who openly criticized the state, I sought to frame all the artworks in the exhibition as an act of disobedience in one form or another. In some cases it was in a poetic sense, in other cases it was in a more visceral one. In fact, visitors could encounter my curatorial acts of disobedience just by the inclusion of certain artworks or certain artists. In particular, artists were free to invite other artists that I hadn’t initially considered. To disobey, in this exhibition, was to disagree with the aesthetic canon, the curatorial authority, and governmental entities. It was to disagree with the misguided modernist paradigm of abstraction as an apolitical practice, concerned only with form and color. My exploration of disobedience in this show was part of the thesis of a year-long research study focused on abstraction in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Cuba, which won the Research and Production of Critical Essay Fellowship issued by TEOR/ética in 2017.

Growing up with music in Havana. Having grown up in a socio-economically marginalized neighborhood in Havana, I remember how my home was a meeting place where my father’s friends, my uncle, and my aunt (an English language university professor) got together every weekend to remember, listen, and discuss the black music hits of their youth. They were part of ‘La Moña’, a colloquial Cuban expression that refers the black popular culture and people involved in its consumption during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. ‘Los moñeros’ were young black Cubans who surreptitiously listened to African American music such as gospel, soul, funk, hip hop, and R&B. My father, who was a DJ of ‘bonches’ in his twenties (bonches were underground night parties held in trusted living rooms, patios, or street corners), used to build rooftop antennas and listen to the programs from Miami radio stations forbidden in Cuba at the time. In my home, I became fondly aware of music by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Commodores, Earth, Wind and Fire, The Supremes, and The Jackson Five, to name but a few. Without understanding the lyrics (English wasn’t included in the academic curriculum in schools) this music provoked in me, at an early age, a sense of identification with the black experience of pain, love, and joy, beyond the Cuban nation. I believe it has influenced my approach toward visual arts later on in life.

I also feel attracted to popular rhythms including Latin Jazz, Cuban Doo-wop, Son, Mozambique, even Timba, and Reparto, despite the masculine and heteronormative perspective that reinforces much of these musical genres. Reparto especially, is an avenue for me to stay connected with the Cuban underground reality, since I decided to live outside of the island. It is a musical form that has resisted government censorship, racism, and criminalization. Who didn’t dance to “Bajanda” by the king of Reparto, Chocolate MC?

“An Apartment on Uranus: Chronicles of the Crossing” by Spanish writer and philosopher Paul B. Preciado, one of the leading thinkers in the study of gender and sexual politics, was the latest book that had an impact on me. During our first-month of self-quarantine at home, I read it aloud to my partner, visual artist Francisco Masó: from one to five chronological missives every night before going to sleep.

Aldeide Delgado lecturing at Coral Gables Museum. Miami. 2019. Photo by OmniKizzy Productions
Aldeide Delgado at “Women Photographers in the Republic: Female Division of the Cuban Photography Club”, Coral Gables Museum, Miami, 2019.
Photo OmniKizzy Productions.

Art after Stonewall, 1969-1989” at the Frost Art Museum in Miami in 2019 is one of the latest exhibitions I’ve seen, that made an impression on me. It was the first national museum show dedicated to explore the impact of the LGBTQ Civil Rights movement in the art world. This exhibition was organized by the Columbus Museum of Art and curated by Jonathan Weinberg, with Daniel Marcus, and Drew Sawyer. It featured more than 200 works of art and archival materials including photographs, paintings, sculptures, film clips, video, music, performance pieces, historical documents, and images taken from magazines, newspapers, and television. I particularly loved to find in the show the experiences of the Ovular feminist photography workshops that took place at Rootworks in Oregon, during the late 70s and early 80s. These workshops were organized to convene feminist photographers, educate each other on technique, and create a non-patriarchal model of photography. I felt inspired by the energy of community and resistance that united them.

I buy, donate, or am a member of different local libraries, theaters, cinemas, and radio stations with non-profit status. I want to highlight two projects I feel very close with: WDNA 88.9 FM Public Radio, and the Coral Gables Art Cinema. The first one’s mission is to provide quality radio arts and cultural programs to the residents of South Florida, remaining committed to the appreciation of Jazz music. The second one presents first-run and regional premieres of quality American independent and international productions, both fiction and documentary, in addition to classic films, special programs, and film festivals, which speak to the multilingual and multicultural diversity of the region.

I like practical clothing that can be adaptable. I would say any kind of dark blue or green jumpsuit, preferably with wide legs and short sleeves because they can be a comfortable, versatile, and easy-to-wear piece. I hate ironing! Depending on the shoes and accessories selection, you can go from informal to formal and vice-versa in the blink of an eye.

One of the early effects of COVID on my work was the postponement of the exhibition “The New Woman”, which I curated for the first edition of the Biennale della Fotografia Femminile, in Mantova, Italy.  Originally scheduled from March 5 to April 5, the exhibition challenges the construction of the emancipated woman as an image of truth in the political narrative of the post-1959 Cuban nation, while prompting dialogues within discourses on the relevance of feminism in socialist societies. Also, in advance of the gradual closure of institutions on a global scale, I created, in collaboration with my partner Francisco Masó, the Facebook group “COVID-19 Cultural Affairs Alliance“, in order to establish a platform for dialogue, resources exchange, and solidarity between the different members of the arts community. The platform includes main categories such as Emergency Funds, Online Art & Education, Opportunities & Resources, Writing & Ideas Circle, and Quarantine Art Projects. Nearly 1,000 members access a registry of publications, posts, and articles, on the impact of the pandemic. In general, the impossibility of holding in person events forced me to redesign WOPHA’s curatorial program and to postpone its inaugural congress at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, now to be presented on November 18-19, 2021.

Installing Building a Feminist Archive Cuban Women Photographers 2019. Photo by Diana Larrea
Installing Building a Feminist Archive, Cuban Women Photographers in the US, 2019. Photo Yunior Careaga

When the quarantine started in Miami, I remember being petrified by a mix of emotions related to death, illness, hospitals, vulnerability, impotence, and confinement. I felt fear for my older relatives in Cuba and in the US. At the same time, I started to become more aware of my mental and physical health and took concrete actions in that direction, such as limiting my time checking social media and TV news, eating well-balanced meals, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and enrolling in online courses I had previously delayed taking because of the lack of time such as “Seeing Through Photographs” by MoMA curator of photography, Sarah Meister; “Feminist Art, and Exhibitions: History and Challenges” by art historian and curator Anja Foerschner; and finally, the brilliant online masterclasses series organized by Self Publish / Be Happy.

Sometimes I feel like 24 hours in a day aren’t enough. As an independent curator, I spend most of my time daily reading books, articles, essays, so it’s not uncommon to find me writing or sending emails until late hours of the night. In a regular, non-pandemic scenario, I wake up after 7 hours of sleep, eat breakfast, do a 60-minute walk or run with my golden retriever, and either go to my studio, attend meetings, studio visits, and conferences, or visit exhibitions in museums, alternative spaces, and galleries. I’m fortunate to have the support of my family and a wonderful team of collaborators through WOPHA, which offers me the possibility to implement different projects at the same time. My team and I meet every six weeks and establish new programming and actions according to our mission. Also, in terms of managing time, I rely on apps that demonstrate to be very effective for scheduling appointments, meetings, and events, sharing calendars, setting reminders, and improving team communication.

Two of the best words of advice I ever got are: first (although it is a tough one to hold up) “Strive for excellence in everything that you do”. It comes from my mom. The second (a rather liberating one) is “Giving-up; it’s always an option, but never do it”, and that one is from my partner.

Usually the bad advice I get is what I call the ‘watcher’s ceiling advice’. It refers to words of advice you receive when someone discourages your idea with the pretext that it’s best for you, and by emphasizing obstacles and problems, and not addressing alternatives or solutions. This advice reinforces the permanence of the ceiling as a barrier that prevents you from advancing to the top in a growing process.

I understand the exhibition-making process in relation to the concepts of curatorial activism and feminist curating. What inspires me most about curating is a sense of urgency motivated by the need to explore archives from a critical perspective in order to render visible forgotten subjects, and to promote new discourses and the production of meaning in relation to the present moment. Each project begins with one or various principal questions, interviews with artists, and a creative process of imagining the forms of interaction between artwork and audience during the exhibition.

Aldeide Delgado, photo Francisco Maso
Aldeide Delgado, photo Francisco Maso.

Art historian Claire Raymond has brilliantly argued the cultural trend in capitalist societies of preferring female artists too late in their careers, or after their deaths (this trend is still pending an analysis in socialist societies). If I was a collector, I would challenge what she describes as the “patriarchal utopia of the dead female body” by continuously collecting and supporting the work of many women artists from an early moment in their careers. I’ll focus, also, in those photographic projects that have created a powerful statement about their times, such as the series “San Francisco Urban Portraits” (1972-1978) by Carlotta Boettcher; “El picnic” (1989) by Nereida García Ferraz, Eugenia Vargas, and Laura González; and “Paquita y Chata se arrebatan” (1996) by Coco Fusco and Nao Bustamante. These works were displayed for the first time in the exhibition I curated “Building a Feminist Archive: Cuban Women Photographers in the US” in September 2019 at the Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA).  Entrenched in a political atmosphere where the concept of a collective “Latino” identity became crucial, these photographs reflect on the renegotiation of the notion of family, identity, gender, sexual orientation, and community, during the last decades of the past century.

My favorite drink is the Pru Oriental, a delicious and refreshing homemade brown-colored drink prepared with several fermented plant roots and leaves such as Ubi vine, Chinese root, soapberry, Jamaican or sweet pepper leaves, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, pine sprouts, and water—although some ingredients may vary depending on personal taste. Its history can be traced back to the 1800s when, after the Haitian Revolution, French settlers, their slaves, and free blacks, inhabited the eastern part of Cuba, bringing their customs and traditions with them. It is believed that Pru Oriental has medicinal properties contributing to lowering high blood pressure.

If I could change something about the art scene with a magical wand I would eliminate the patriarchal, colonial, and binary structures that persist in the art world and in our society in general.

If I wasn’t curating, perhaps I would pursue a career in politics.

Aldeide Delgado

Independent curator

Miami, USA

Biography:

Aldeide Delgado is a Cuban-born, Miami-based independent Latinx curator, and founder & director of Women Photographers International Archive (WOPHA). The organization researches, promotes, and educates about the role of women, and those identified as women in photography. Delgado was recently awarded grant from the John S. and James L Knight Foundation to produce the 2021 WOPHA Congress at Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). She is the author of the online archive Catalog of Cuban Women Photographers, as well as the namesake ongoing book. Her interests include gender and feminism, racial identity, photography and abstraction in visual arts. Publications, where she has contributed, include Cuban Art News, Artishock, Terremoto, C&America Latina, Arcadia, as well as diverse independent art blogs. She writes for Artishock, Terremoto, ArtNexus, and C&America Latina.

Delgado studied Art History at the University of Havana and continued her education as fellow of the School of Art Criticism 2018, a program of the INBA-Siqueiros Project with the support of Jumex Foundation and Patronato de Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico. She was the 2017 recipient of the Research and Production of Critic Essay Fellowship issued by Teor/éTica for her project Solid Abstraction: Political Paths in Central American and the Caribbean.

Presenting and writing in both English and Spanish, she has participated in events and has served as invited lecturer at Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), Coral Gables Museum, The New School, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), Centro Cultural Español Miami, Universidad de La Habana, Miami Biennale, and the 12th Biennial of Havana. Her recent projects include: “The New Woman: Gender Discourse in the Development of Cuban Female Photography”, Biennale della Fotografia Femminile, Mantova, Italy; “Building a Feminist Archive. Cuban Women Photographers in the US,” Bailey Contemporary Arts, BaCA Pompano Beach, USA; “Women Photographers in the Republic: Female Division of the Cuban Photography Club,” Tate Modern. London, UK. She is an active member of PAMM’s International Women’s Committee, IKT International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art, US Latinx Art Forum, Art Table, and the steering committee of the Feminist Art Coalition.

Art critic and writer.

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