Interview with Lynette Bosch
Date: 03/09/2006 Interviewed by Jorge J. E. Gracia Filmed by Norma Gracia Transcribed by Paul Symington Edited by Jorge J. E. Gracia
The interview took place in Jorge J. E. Gracia's home
[Gracia]: "Lynette Bosch is co-director of the NEH Summer Seminar on Negotiating Identities in Art,Literature, and Philosophy: Cuban Americans and American Culture' that will take place at the University at Buffalo, June 11-30, 2006. She is also the coordinator of the art exhibition that will be held in conjunction with the Seminar, Layers: Collecting Cuban-American Art.' Lynette is an expert on Cuban-American art in addition to Baroque and Renaissance art. She brings the perspective of an art-historian to this series of interviews and will enlighten us on how her work is related to the issue of her search for identity, her identification of herself as Cuban-American, and as American. So, Lynette, you've written a book on Cuban-American art in Miami, how did that come about? What inspired you to do it?"
[Bosch]: "As you know, I went to Princeton, and was primarily interested in Italian-Renaissance art. From there I branched out into a dissertation on Spanish manuscripts. So, my scholarly interests as such were always very much centered in the 15th century; very European based "
[Gracia]: "The 15th century?"
[Bosch]: "You didn't know that."
[Gracia]: "No, for me as a medievalist this is a major point of interest."
[Bosch]: "A very different world from contemporary Cuban-American art, wouldn't you say? Everything was very European based, very traditional, very Princetonian kind of art history. I remember being in Marquand Library and coming across a magazine article on Frida Khalo around 1980 or 1981. Back then nobody was teaching Latin-American art anywhere. There wasn't the explosion that we've had, and I had never seen anything like what I saw. I remember thinking, This is a whole other world that I just don't know anything about.' But I went off to Spain and finished my dissertation. Then I started getting those early temporary teaching jobs, some adjunct work, one-year replacements. As I was doing this, I was writing on the Italian-Renaissance or Spanish manuscripts. I was very much a Renaissance person stretching into the Baroque, because I could also teach into the 17th century. I ended up getting a job at the State University of New York at Cortland, where I was hired to teach Renaissance and Baroque art. But when I arrived at the school, by virtue of my being Cuban, they decided to put me in charge of a Latin-American studies program."
[Gracia]: "Well, you're a quick study "
[Bosch]: "Oh yeah, I was a quick study. And I refrained from pointing out to them that this was just a tiny bit racist, to immediately equate my being Cuban with the idea that I could somehow, by a gift of genetics, transform myself into a Latin-Americanist."
[Gracia]: "Right on."
[Bosch]: "I knew where Latin America was but probably at that point I had not traveled in it except for being born in Cuba and having lived there for eight and a half years, which does not make one a Latin Americanist. So I was confronted with having to organize programming in areas about which I knew nothing. I stumbled along and then the same people who had thought that it would be such a wonderful idea for me to head up this program thought it would be fabulous if I could teach a course on Latino art, about which I knew nothing. Again, not at all related to my scholarly interests, my background, my training absolutely nothing I had no idea how to cope even with contemporary art: all my artists were long dead! So, not only did I have the problem of, I know nothing,' but the methodology is very different when you're dealing with contemporary artists and when you're dealing with the Renaissance or the Baroque. However, I wanted tenure and I thought I didn't have a choice. So I started preparing a course. I did some reading and of course the research doesn't look anything like what it looks like in the more traditional fields because and again, this is some time ago--the indexes weren't there. We're talking 1990, 1991 as the year I was given this assignment as an assistant professor. It became very clear from the preliminary research that I did, and even the state of the literature back then, which was very rudimentary, that if it was going to make any sense I would have to focus on Chicanos, Puerto-Ricans, and Cubans. And I thought, Let's start with the Cubans,' because my family lived in Miami and it was very easy to go to Miami, visit my family. I thought I can look up a few of the artists and at least we'll start there.' While I was starting to do this, I was asked to organize an exhibition of the work of a group of these artists. May I point out that I had never curated an exhibition before in my life and that I had not a clue about how you put an exhibition together? Isn't it wonderful they had such confidence in me?"
[Gracia]: "Right, this is great. I should tell you a little story afterwards, because there is something very similar to your career and mine! Go ahead."
[Bosch]: "So, there I am, with absolutely no experience, organizing an exhibition. I did not even know how to find Cuban-American artists, so I wrote to all the professors of contemporary art teaching in Miami schools and I asked them, Could you help me with this project? I'm trying to find contemporary Cuban-American artists, I'm in the process of organizing an exhibition, can you give me some names and contact information?' Juan Martínez from Florida International University was the only one who responded. He sent me a list of artists' names. I called a few of them Mario Bencomo was one of the first people who responded, and Demi also responded, and then Arturo Rodríguez. And when I went to Miami, the first three that I met were Mario, Demi, and Arturo. They in turn introduced me to other artists and I was able to put together an exhibition, which was the first one that I did, called Islands in the Stream.' I had never written an exhibition catalog, but I did it. So suddenly there I was, with a group of artists, organizing this exhibition, writing this catalog completely out of my field. Simultaneously with the exhibition getting set to open, I left Cortland for Brandeis. Part of why Brandeis was interested in me, as opposed to other Renaissance-Baroque people, was that I could also teach Latin American art. So I end up at Brandeis being told to join up with Latin American studies. I was really carrying two positions: Italian Renaissance and Baroque and then Contemporary Latin American. Once I started meeting the Cuban artists, it became very clear that there actually was enough scope for a series of exhibitions, just about them. So, I arranged to have some exhibitions at Brandise and then I realized that there actually was enough material for a book. But the question was how to manage it, because there are hundreds, literally thousands of Cuban-American artists."
[Gracia]: "So what do you do?"
[Bosch]: "You end up either with an encyclopedia, with a paragraph per, or you have to figure out some way of cutting down the material or categorizing it in such a way that you can manage to write a cohesive book. Given my interests in Renaissance and Baroque art, obviously I gravitated toward the artists who used the techniques and the imagery of Renaissance and Baroque art. Then it became simpler, because I was going with people whose artistic underpinnings I understood. But that wasn't the real issue, because my personal preference for artists who deal with Renaissance and Baroque was not exactly scholarly. I had been making a collection of Cuban-American art, so that would have been a very simple thing to do. I hadn't been trying to write a scholarly book on the subject. I kept curating exhibitions throughout this group exhibitions and individual exhibitions and writing essays. With each essay I was able to develop my thinking on the topic a little further. But the problem remained of who to put in and who to leave out. I had the sort of Renaissance and Baroque edge, but that still left me with too many artists. Then I thought that I wanted to write on my generation because after all, this is the whole issue in terms of how you discover yourself as you work on the topic. So I decided to write on artists that had a similar exile experience to minethe ones who came as children and adolescents. That narrowed the topic down some more. Now, it's important to keep in mind that I did not grow up in Miami. I grew up in New York City. I never lived in Miami. I visited Miami."
[Gracia]: "You are one of those that has been out, just like myself."
[Bosch]: "I'm a northern Cuban, so to speak."
[Gracia]: "Maybe a pseudo-Cuban?"
[Bosch]: "Yes, pseudo-Cuban! My experience of living in Miami was when I first came, when my parents had stayed behind in Cuba for a few months. I came in June and they did not come until October, so I lived in Miami with my aunt and my uncle and my grandmother. After that, we would go to Miami in the summers and we would stay for three, four weeks. . . "
[Bosch]: "Yeah, not living there. The Miami Cubans were very different from the world that I remembered in Cuba as a child and, of course, very different from my contemporaries in New York City."
[Gracia]: "Whether Cubans or not?"
[Bosch]: "Hm, no I did not know any Cubans in New York City. The majority of my friends were either Jewish-Americans or Italian-Americans. Meeting a group of Cubans my age was something really novel to me because when we had gone to Miami for vacations, I only saw my relatives and their friends it was a very defined group. I didn't have cousins who were my contemporaries. I had one cousin who was three years older and all the other cousins were ten or twelve years older than I was. So I didn't really have a peer group at all. Meeting the artists to a great degree was a kind of redefinition of identity in the sense that if I had grown up in Cuba, these are who I would have grown up with. These would have been my generation there and so there was a very strange clash in terms of things being very familiar and at the same time very foreign because they were much more Cuban than I was."
[Gracia]: "And they were artists, and in Cuba you probably would not have met artists most likely. You would have grown up with children of "
[Bosch]: ". . . professionals, doctors, lawyers, dentists. It was really interesting because they were artists in a very un-American way. They didn't have the art school degrees. They didn't have, for the most part, the formal training. They were self taught. They were self invented in many ways. Even the ones who have what we would consider to be American academic credentials like Maria Brito, who was also one of the first ones that I met after I met those original three, were different. María is someone who works very much on her own and on her own terms. She doesn't work within the infrastructure, let's say, of the American academic system. She functions in a very Cuban-American world. What I kept thinking about as I met these artists at the beginning was the contrast between them and me; how you come down on different sides of the hyphen with different emphases. They knew so much more about Cuba than I did. They knew about Cuban music, they knew about Cuban literature, they knew Cuban places. I remember when I met Humberto Calzada, who as it turned out, unbeknownst to me, had been a friend of my cousin María Elena."
[Gracia]: "There are all sorts of connections!"
[Bosch]: "Exactly! My grandmother and his father had been great friends in Cuba; they had both been members of the Havana Rotary Club and had known each other really well. It wasn't just that we belong to the same generation and that we were Cuban-American, but to some degree that I would have met some of these people anyway."
[Gracia]: "Some of whom may never have become artists had they not come to Miami."
[Bosch]: "They could have been the usual businessmen and housewives with piles of kids, which was very much the Cuban cultural model. There was that sense of developing an identity that really, by growing up in New York City, in the neighborhood where I grew up, in Forest Hills, I really had not ever explored. That became very interesting but let us not lose sight of the fact that I was supposed to be writing a scholarly book. All this personal stuff was very interesting on the side but it was not at all what I really needed to focus on. Much of my difficulty was separating that--the personal interaction--and the art historical piece."
[Gracia]: "And you of course were used to dealing with art from artists who were dead. And here they are alive."
[Bosch]: "And they talked back. And they had a lot to say."
[Gracia]: "And they have agendas."
[Bosch]: "Oh! And ideas about everything and how you should do everything."
[Gracia]: "How did you deal with that?"
[Bosch]: "I caught on very early on that if I wanted to make the thing work, I needed to always make sure that whatever I would publish, I would run by them first. If you are going to be writing on contemporary artists, there are really two kinds of critics: the type that pays absolutely no attention to the artist and says whatever it is that she wants to say, and the type that does pay attention to the artist. I felt that in this case it was much more important to listen to the artist because the narrative behind the work is what gave the work shape and meaning. One thing is to be sure never to publish anything without approval because this avoids very nasty scenes down the road, and another is that I decided I would never tell any of them anything that anyone else said about them or about each other or reveal any personal information about anybody to anybody."
[Gracia]: "Very wise!"
[Bosch]: "I was going to be literally the locked vault, because otherwise it would become too difficult."
[Gracia]: "And they would not trust you if you had not done it that way."
[Bosch]: "Exactly, so I caught on to those two things very early on but I was still having to deal with the issue of the theoretical context within which I was going to view this work. I did start out, again, being grounded in the Renaissance, with the Vasarian model. Let's gather the biographical information, let's gather the information about the corpus of work, let's gather the data, the titles, the list of works, the stylistic development. . . "
[Gracia]: "The nuts and bolts of the thing."
[Bosch]: "And the documentation "
[Gracia]: "But there had to be something else."
[Bosch]: "Yes, and one of the things that was very important was the newspaper criticism and the magazine criticism, because these were artists without a bibliography. One of the things that I did understand at the time was that this was untrodden territory. But the assumption of a bibliography is something that if you work with the Renaissance and Baroque is "
[Gracia]: ". . . four hundred years of bibliography!"
[Bosch]: "And your intellectual paths are very clearly laid out for you. You can go on little side trips, but the big highway is there, and here there was no big highway."
[Gracia]: "You were making the road as you went, weren't you?"
[Bosch]: "Exactly, and everybody had ideas about how that road should be made because, of course, one of the things that happens in the contemporary art world is that everybody is trying to get more attention than the person sitting next to them. And there were critics who had already written on these artists. I was not by any means the first person to work on them; there was a long history of criticism before I came on the scene. Fortunately, the artists were very good about keeping their archives, and this was something that I realized early on was very important: if they had not been so assiduous about keeping their archives, the work would have been impossible. It was not possible for me to go and research all of those newspapers and sources."
[Gracia]: "Sure. Where would you go? You wouldn't know where to start."
[Bosch]: "Most of the journals are now gone. I did a lot of archival work in terms of all old clippings and articles and exhibition catalogs and I constructed bibliographies for each one of them. Again we're talking nuts and bolts, and I was still not on any kind of theoretical base here. And liking them because they were Renaissance-Baroquey' really wasn't going to help. The first thing that I did was to decide to do exile and the idea of bi-cultural identity. So I started to write about the work from that perspective. How does it reveal the development of an awareness of exile? I was looking at the group that had come as children and adolescents, and I started talking to them about this I would tape conversations with them and we would just talk about these issues and then later on I would pull things out and reconstruct it. But I still wasn't getting to what you might call a real theoretical base. I could address the exile experience from a psychological perspective, the idea of being bi-cultural, the invention of the self, the recreation of the self, and I could discuss what the issues were in individual pieces, but what I was really missing was why pick the Renaissance-Baroque? Other Cuban-American artists have chosen many other types of vocabularies, but why was this group choosing this type of vocabulary? Eventually what I came to was the realization that the idea of exile was very closely bound up with, if you think about it, the sort of meta-narrative of the Catholic Church, because you are expelled from paradise. And if you think about the construct of Cuban-Americans in terms of the narrative that they tell, they were expelled from paradise. Now you've got the match. For a culture that is predominantly Catholic although, again, being Cuban means many things because there are all kinds of people in Cuba. But for a culture that was still defined very much by the Catholic Church, the images of the saints and of Christ were simply part of the visual culture. You assume them."
[Gracia]: "You grow up with them."
[Bosch]: "And you understand they mean suffering, pain, and in some cases martyrdom and that there is the idea of achieving of salvation or return home as it were. The visual language of the Church is a perfect vehicle for tracing the idea that you have lost home, you've lost paradise and you suffer, and then you reconstruct a new identity."
[Gracia]: "And of course that ties in completely to the Renaissance and the Baroque."
[Bosch]: "Yes, but that wasn't still in terms of seeing where it came from, because it's not as though they only had Renaissance-Baroque elements. I began to understand pretty quickly that in the same way that most Latin American artists are global and always were, and borrow things from anywhere and mix them up and synthesize them in their own way there were these other influences there too. So it wasn't confined to just that one vocabulary. Then I started thinking, Are they post-modern because they are re-contextualizing the works and giving them their own personalized meanings?' yes, to some degree, but they're certainly not working within a post-modernist frame. You can put that on there but that's certainly not what's happening. Eventually I came to the idea of the Baroque -- Baroquismo, as defined by Alejo Carpentier and Severo Sarduy -- as the mixture. It's the variety, the diversity, the European and the non-European, the synthesizing of all the cultures, all the races. That's really where the permission came for them to synthesize. Along with being in exile, because once you're exiled, you no longer have your old identity. So, what do you make a new one out of? Anything and everything."
[Gracia]: "There is also a strong element about some of these artists that goes back to Spanish paintings in particular. Is this part of this also? Finding roots, their past, tying something when they need it in exile, where they feel lonely and uprooted."
[Bosch]: "That is part of what you're trying to do since you can't get your immediate past back, you reach back to the common shared past and the idiom is that of Spain because that becomes the dominant culture of the Americas. You relate to other Latin Americans through Spain."
[Gracia]: "And of course there is a great tradition of art there."
[Bosch]: "Exactly. The combination then of the larger identity and the shared identity with other Latin Americans and the idea that there is this long artistic history gives you that permission. But I think even more so the idea of synthesis to redefine the identity into something that is different and is new and flexible because, again, when you come down on that hyphen, you're always coming down differently on either side; from day to day, from minute to minute."
[Gracia]: "There's one interesting fact here and this is that this whole emphasis of return, let's say, to Spanish themes, makes this art more Hispanic than Latino; if one means by Latino something that is primarily Latin American, because Hispanic harkens back to Spain and what it did in Latin America."
[Bosch]: "To some degree, but they have just as much Italian or Dutch. For instance, think of Emilio Fallero who's fixated on Vermeer."
[Bosch]: "Falero's mixtures of things, Vermeer with coconuts. Again, it is that once you let go of the I'm a Cuban' identity and you open up other possibilities, they don't have a problem accepting everything. There's also, I think, a larger identity, which is Mediterranean, because if you think about who came to the Americas, it wasn't just the Spaniards: the Portuguese came, the Italians came, the French came, and the English eventually came."
[Gracia]: "And the Catalans had an empire in the Mediterranean and that all filtered in."
[Bosch]: "What is really happening with this particular group within the larger streams of Cuban-American art is that they're taking the permission to mix and they're mixing everything, always to address their personal history."
[Gracia]: "This is something I've been looking at recently at some of these pieces of Cuban-American art in your book as they're presented and I've asked myself, Could someone who was not a Cuban-American have produced art like this?' And my answer is, I don't think so,' because think about the balsas series that have become so popular with these artists. It's a unique experience."
[Bosch]: "It's a very unique experience, although you can think about the Vietnamese boat people and Haitians. If you're thinking about people adrift at sea in make-shift craft, it would not be surprising to. . . "
[Gracia]: ". . . find something there as well."
[Gracia]: "Has it occurred?"
[Bosch]: "Will it come up as a motif in the same way? Will someone a hundred years from now step back and say that the motif of these make-shift boats became a defining mark of the late 20th century. Maybe?"
[Gracia]: "Yeah, people on the boats, on the road, on the move."
[Bosch]: "Exactly, constantly moving, drifting, no doubt that would become part of it. But the experience of the balsas is very much the idea of the trip from Cuba to Miami. The geography of the exile is very important: exile is universal, has always been there obviously. But it's the definition of the specific exile and the path that it took that is particular. I also think it's very interesting because if you think about how the majority of Cubans came to the US, they did not come in rafts."
[Gracia]: "That's right, they came by plane."
[Bosch]: "Or by ferry."
[Gracia]: "In my particular case, yes."
[Bosch]: "But we flew in a normal 20th century mode, and yet somehow the raft has become the defining symbol of Cuban exile.Yet it's a relatively recent development in an exile process which is almost fifty years old now. That idea is definitely something that later will be studied with hindsight and seen within the context of a larger phenomenon. If you're recontextualizing and trying to figure out what it means to be Cuban-American, what it means to be exiled, and what it means to try to communicate that experience, you can't do it unless you universalize."
[Gracia]: "Because other people will not understand it otherwise."
[Bosch]: "Exactly. It's that thing of going so much into your particular experience that you come out at the universal end."
[Gracia]: "The particular leads to the universal if it's really explored deeply enough. This is interesting because you were mentioning that there were these other cultures and other people that are also on the move; that they have experienced rafts: the Haitians, the boat people in Southeast Asia and so forth, and yet it doesn't look like these people have produced art with that theme. But perhaps they haven't produced art at all in the sense that most of these other people are at a socio-economic level that is so hard that perhaps this aspect of producing art has not had a chance to develop. But the Cubans somehow have had enough means to be able to move into it and do something about it. Other people would probably have done that too but they haven't had the opportunity. What do you think?"
[Bosch]: "I think they haven't had the enclave, while one of the more unique phenomena that Cuban-Americans have is the Miami enclave, the substitute Cuba. I have seen Vietnamese artists who are producing art about this experience and Haitian artists are doing the same thing, but they're not doing it from within the context of an enclave that supports them. One of the ironic things about Cuban-American artists is that it's not as though Cuba had such a great art scene when it was in its heyday' because when I ask the older artists such as Baruch Salinas and Rafael Soriano What was it like?', they tell me it was very hard because there were only two or three hundred people in Cuba interested in art and the artists had a very hard time making a living. So it's not as though the artistic phenomenon that took off in Miami was something natural."
[Gracia]: "So it's actually something that happened in Miami because you have just started by saying there are thousands of Cuban artists and in fact there are! It's incredible this is an extraordinary explosion."
[Bosch]: "It started in this country because even though one doesn't think although one thinks of New York City as being the art capital in the second half of the twentieth century of the United States as being a country that produces tremendous numbers of artists, but it does. There's a tremendous art business in the US."
[Gracia]: "I wonder about the proportion of the population, let's say how many artists are there in the US, apart from the Cubans what percentage of the population is into art or produces art? And then, what percentage in the case of the Cuban community in Miami? It would be interesting to learn something about that, although no one has compiled such statistics as far as I know."
[Bosch]: "No one. Very interesting! If you think about it in the general American population, everywhere you go there's an artist colony. Everywhere you go the smallest town in the US will have a local artist or two. Hundreds of thousands millions really, if you think about it in the larger population. In terms of the Cuban-American population, relative to the general population, I would say the percentage would still be pretty small, but proportionally more significant than it would have been in Cuba. So I do think that the take off into the visual arts is something that was engendered by the artistic culture of the United States. And especially because the artistic culture of the United States is geared to be regional."
[Gracia]: "And that allows it to develop."
[Bosch]: "You have, of course, the artists who have the spotlight on them in New York City, Chicago, and LA, but the art world in the US is a regional, local world that encourages localized artistic production. If you look at it from that perspective, Cuban artists are very American."
[Gracia]: "And this is good, Lynnette, because one of the great strengths of the Renaissance is that it was all localized in terms of communities that supported local art. This produced an incredible flowering. We have traveled in places like China, for example, where there was no local art, everything was centralized on the emperor."
[Bosch]: "Sure, yes, a nationalized art."
[Gracia]: "And you know what? If you compare of course I'm going to be killed for this generalization but if you compare the amount of art that China produced even though it produced an enormous amount to the amount of art that the Renaissance produced, there is no comparison. Because the Renaissance was just bursting in so many places, while in China it was primarily at the imperial court."
[Bosch]: "And they controlled production of the desired objects. I think that, yeah, to a great degree what you have in the US is very much the Renaissance model where you have the larger centers, Venice, Florence, Rome, Milan, but every little town "
[Gracia]: ". . . has something going."
[Bosch]: "Every little town in Renaissance Italy had its local artist of varying quality. There's no such thing as a place that didn't have at least one artist working. Somehow there is a parallel in the US to that. And I think that Cuban-American artists became very much a part of it. There's also a more metaphysical group-psychology issue. Somebody has to tell the story of what happened to us. And the artists who came already as adult, mature artists, such as Baruch, who is the originator of everything, came already fully formed. When they went into exile, they understood it intellectually. Nobody was prepared for the emotional price that you had to be paiud, but that's a very big difference from taking children or adolescents and changing their lives overnight. The process of understanding, and understanding again, happens every time you turn a corner of your life and so the only ones who could tell that story from that perspective are also the ones who were forced to synthesize their identity because the ones who came as adults didn't have to change their identity; they just had to learn language; but they could remain wholly Cuban inside. But those of us who came as children and adolescents had to become American, couldn't just put it on as a language."
[Gracia]: "That's something that you can see in the various generations of Cuban-American artists: the ones that came fully formed, artists that had a reputation and a body of work already; the ones that came here and were the children of that generation but somehow were developing and developed under those different conditions. All of these things are quite interesting. If you compare someone like Alberto Rey with María Brito or with Baruch Salinas you see differences which are extraordinary and yet the guy is doing balsas, and is concerned with the whole Cuban experience."
[Bosch]: "Because you always respond to that. One of the other topics that came up a lot in conversations with the artists is What is a Cuban-American artist?' Because, what is a Cuban-American? Is a Cuban-American only one of those who came as children and adolescents and were able to incorporate enough of both identities into this strange hybrid? Or is a Cuban-American artist somebody who came as an adult and decides, well I'm going to be American too. I'm going to Americanize, deliberately.' You also have people becoming Cuban-Americans at different points in the exile because the definition of exile identity has as much to do with when you came and what you found. For instance, those of us who came from 1959-1969 were the shock troops. Whether you came as an adult, adolescent, or child, you were part of the first arrivals and as the first arrivals you took the brunt of everything. We came with nothing, there was nobody to help us."
[Gracia]: "Yes, particularly at the very beginning."
[Bosch]: "In Miami there was some assistance from the government, but really nothing to prepare Americans for Cubans. I can't even begin to imagine what all those Floridians thought as we started arriving. The groups that came after us and especially the groups that have come more recently, in the 90's and in the past six years they come and find everything prepared. Everything is Cubanized in Miami."
[Gracia]: "They can get everything. In fact they can get things in Miami that they couldn't get in Cuba: Cuban things!"
[Bosch]: "That's a very different experience of exile, quote-unquote, and hyphenated identity than what we had. This is something that also needs to be discussed. I obviously didn't fit it into my book, it's a whole other story."
[Gracia]: "There's another book there to be written, although you tell me that you don't want to write another book about Cuban-American art."
[Bosch]: "No, it won't be me writing it."
[Gracia]: "You're going back to the Renaissance!"
[Bosch]: "Yeah, yeah, I'll go back to the Renaissance, but it's very important for defining identity to take up this issue of the waves of exiles and the placement of the exiled."
[Gracia]: "This is a reason I find that part of your book particularly interesting; you begin with a chapter talking about the different waves of exiles and the conditions under which they came. And then the chapters that follow fit into this mold."
[Bosch]: "But I didn't even go up to Mariel, because that's a whole other book."
[Gracia]: "Still, you have identified different generations, even though I don't think that you tried to be comprehensive. It's not an encyclopedia, it's a roadmap."
[Bosch]: "Exactly. One could take all the different aesthetics that come under the large umbrella of Cuban-American art and one could do a separate book on each of them. Santería aesthetics being one of the one. But there are artists who work in abstraction, so one could look at that. There are installation artists, one could look at that. The whole issue of the ones who came in the 90's who trained in Cuba as Cuban artists: they are a parallel to the Baruch Salinas generation. They came already formed, already as renowned artists and then they came here and they learned a language if they didn't already know it. It's very much a parallel in that sense. However, they did not struggle in the way that Baruch Salinas and Soriano had to struggle. They found an active art scene in Miami which they did not invent; they profited from it and it was and I'm not saying that each artist that came in the 90's is sitting in a mansion because certainly many of them crashed and could not cope with the free enterprise of the US but it was a very different arrival."
[Gracia]: "The other thing is that there was a Cuban community that had achieved a certain status and they had money and they are now used to buying art and so there's a market. If you look at people like Soriano, no one was buying art at the time he came because there was no money."
[Bosch]: "You needed money to eat, you needed money to buy clothes, you needed money to send your children to school."
[Gracia]: "But now these people are affluent. They have made Miami a great metropolis and therefore, they have money to spare."
[Bosch]: "They have disposable income and a desire to buy, which, again, is something American."
[Gracia]: "Art has become fashionable."
[Bosch]: "And then I think of the larger Latin American context that goes along with that. But I think that it is something that will continue changing. Now, the question that I have is What happens to the concept of Cuban-American art when Fidel Castro falls?'"
[Gracia]: "That's going to be very interesting. Of course, there are all sorts of theories; do you have any theories about what's going to happen?"
[Bosch]: "I don't because I've only started thinking about it. The whole premise of Cuban-American art is intrinsically linked with the idea that Cuba cannot be returned to you can make little trips but Cuba cannot be returned to because Fidel is there. Okay, Fidel dies, whatever happens, happens. What does it mean to be a Cuban-American exile artist when the exile no longer exists? What do they talk about then? Where does the genre go? Does is just disappear overnight? Does it become a weird footnote in the history of art? Does it become a curiosity? How does the body hold?"
[Gracia]: "Will Cuban-American art, that is, these artists that are here, influence then the artists that are on the island or vice versa? What happens?"
[Bosch]: "And what about the artists on the island who can then get out?"
[Gracia]: "Will they?"
[Bosch]: "And will they become Cuban-American?"
[Gracia]: "My theory is that the US is this is a general theory that I'm sure is false like ancient Rome. And what survived in Rome of the ancient world survived only because Rome took an interest in it. Because you have to be in the metropolis for it to have an impact. So, Cuban-American art is having an impact and will probably have an impact because it is in this country and with the growth of Hispanics or Latinos, Spanish and interest in Latin American art has probably some kind of assured permanence. Not only in the US, but perhaps in the world. Now, if the regime in Cuba falls and things change "
[Bosch]: "What do they morph into? Because if your narrative has been this exile within the meta-narrative of exile, and hyphenated identity, what happens when a big pillar is removed? And then, what's the story that gets told? How does it continue having a meaning? Well, just because Fidel dies doesn't mean that the legitimacy of the experience goes away. They can continue addressing it."
[Gracia]: "But then it becomes old hat."
[Bosch]: "Exactly, and then you get the, O h come on, he's dead. Stop dwelling!"
[Gracia]: "Move on to something else. Will they move on to something else?"
[Bosch]: "That's the big question and if they don't, they won't survive."
[Gracia]: "There are some of these artists whose themes are not so much tied to Cuba in a way. Take Maria Brito for example, there are things that you could say, yes, her trauma of the exile and all these things play into her.' But she has other axes to grind and she's talking about her own struggles."
[Bosch]: "And she's talking about being a woman and dealing with all these roles and all the pressures of being a woman. And you're all of these things, the expectations that children have of you, your parents, your relatives, your husbands. She has a different meta-narrative that will continue, exile or no exile."
[Gracia]: "She has already moved beyond, I think, with that particular issue."
[Bosch]: "Or take somebody like Demi who even though her employment of children is very linked to her own experience, the idea of recording the experience through the eyes of children is broader; children are always caught up in these situations. . . ."
[Gracia]: ". . . traps."
[Bosch]: "That will continue. Think about Iraqi children today. In some sense the artists who have managed to transcend the particulars of the Cuban narrative already will continue. They will not have a problem. I don't doubt that they will be able to transcend it because again they're really good artists first."
[Gracia]: "Now take someone like Tomás Sanchez, who does all these Cuban landscapes. There is a bit of nostalgia there, isn't' there?"
[Bosch]: "Oh, very much so. The nostalgia thing is actually a big issue because there's a huge difference between nostalgia and memory. And they get equated and it's important to separate these two things. There's memory in terms of function to give you a time and a place and a point of reference. Nostalgia implies that kind of, oh, looking back with longing to the golden age.' Maria Brito uses painted photographs in her work and Demi uses old family portrait photographs for her series. This is looking into memory for information with which to build a new identity. Sanchez, on the other hand, recreates this golden age paradise Cuba the implication being that you were cast out of paradise and we go back to the Catholic meta-narrative to tug at your heartstrings because oh, those palm trees remind you of home,' and now you're bathed in pathos. But you're really enjoying it because, after all, it's so visually appealing. That's the soft side of memory, that's really the nostalgic element. I don't think that when you look at the group of artists I studied in my book you find that; they're too hard-edged."
[Gracia]: "Some of them are rather strong and difficult in many ways. And clearly they are not catering to nostalgia at all. I look through that book and I don't think I see one picture there that makes you think of Cuba in a nostalgic way, no."
[Bosch]: "No, there's nothing sentimental. There's nothing, oh, I wish I were in the old days.' No, there's nothing, they're too hard-edged for that."
[Gracia]: "When you have objects that are Cuban objects like Alberto Rey has that bar of guava'. . ."
[Bosch]: "The guava, the iconic guava."
[Gracia]: "It's not something nostalgic at all. It's an object and that brings out, as you said, memories. It is an object of reflection."
[Bosch]: "The incorporation of photography if you think about it with Juan Carlos Llera, who is working so deeply with combination of painting and photography again it's for information, and for using the information to reconstruct."
[Gracia]: "This is the other thing, they have moved, like Juan Carlos has moved into a new medium. Incorporating new ways of doing things. But I want to go back to this whole business about your own identity. Here you are: you were thrown into this book and into this whole issue by someone else. Now let me tell you that I was also thrown into this Latin American philosophy thing which I never thought I would do. I was also a medievalist. So we have these two things in common."
[Bosch]: "Dead people, dead people."
[Gracia]: "I come to the University of Buffalo and they tell me, Well, you're Cuban, why don't you teach a course in Latin American philosophy?' And I did and that has been history. So we did the same thing in many ways."
[Gracia]: "But don't you feel a need to go back to these issues and continue to explore the Cuban thing some more?"
[Bosch]: "No, not at all, because I function really very much as an American who was born in Cuba, lived there for some time, and obviously have Cuban relatives. But I lived in New York City, I'm a New Yorker."
[Gracia]: "So you think that the fact that you and I moved away from Miami makes the whole situation is different, their whole approach to negotiating our identities is different?"
[Bosch]: "It depends on what you want, because you can live anywhere I think of Eladio González, who's so wholly Cuban of course, he came older but you would think it would be tempered by living in Chicago so long. Not at all. So it really depends on what you resonate with and the really interesting part is that in the process of writing the book, doing the research, I became more Cuban but really in the end what I realized was that I'm really a New Yorker."
[Gracia]: "For better or for worse."
[Bosch]: "For better or for worse. If you were to say to me, what's your identity? Well, I'm a New Yorker. However, being a New Yorker implies a variety of ethnic connections to different roots."
[Gracia]: "It's a very cosmopolitan place. It's not like being from Peoria."
[Bosch]: "Exactly, so again if you think about the essential identity, it's the ability to shift. It's the shape-shifting about which you can talk to all the different groups and that's what their art does, it talks to all the different groups because the references for all the different groups are there."
[Gracia]: "Now, tell me, do you really feel so Cuban? I mean there are some people that really feel very Cuban. Even some people who have come up North and lived up North, they like to eat Cuban food, they keep up with news from Cuba, they have this constant "
[Bosch]: ". . . need to be in touch."
[Bosch]: "Need to be in touch with being Cuban."
[Gracia]: "I haven't felt it, do you feel it?"
[Bosch]: "No. I mean, yes if I hear something about Cuba on the TV or somebody says something or I see a newspaper piece; it captures my eye obviously. There are certain Cuban foods that I love: guava, for instance."
[Gracia]: "Oh, of course, that's "
[Bosch]: ". . . you get back in touch with it, but do I seek it out? No, I don't."
[Gracia]: "Same here. I think that may be the difference between us and the people that are in Miami; they are immersed in it."
[Bosch]: ". . . and it is what they are. Northern Cubans are a different breed; different identity."
[Gracia]: "Well, Lynette it has been wonderful and I'm so glad that we did this."
[Bosch]: "Thank you."