Mulata Nation: Visualizing Race and Gender in Cuba by Alison Fraunhar (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2019-11-03 03:21Z by Steven

Mulata Nation: Visualizing Race and Gender in Cuba by Alison Fraunhar (review)

The Americas
Volume 76, Number 4, October 2019
pages 727-728

Mey-Yen Moriuchi, Assistant Professor of Art History
LaSalle University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Mulata Nation: Visualizing Race and Gender in Cuba. By Alison Fraunhar. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2018. Pp. 262. $70.00. Cloth.

Alison Fraunhar discerningly examines how the mulata has been represented and performed in Cuban visual culture from the nineteenth century to the present. She analyzes a variety of visual media, from prints and paintings to film and photography, to demonstrate how the identity and stereotypes of the mulata developed within popular culture and the national imagination.

Considered a bridge between European subject and African other, the mulata was “European enough to be visible and beautiful to the white male subject, and African enough to be typologized as sexual, primitive, desirable, and available” (4). Invoking Antonio Benítez-Rojo’s notion of “The Repeating Island,” Homi Bhabha’s concept of colonial mimicry, Stuart Hall’s model of identity based on ambivalence, and Judith Butler’s performativity of identity, along with the work of other theorists, Fraunhar investigates how performance and representation of the mulata and mulataje (performativity of the mulata) are intertwined. The study is not focused on actual life experiences of mulatas but rather their visual representation across media.

Fraunhar begins her analysis through the lens of costumbrismo, a literary and artistic movement popular in Spain and the Americas that represented scenes and types from everyday life. The figure of the desirable mulata, though in existence since the seventeenth century, was cemented during the nineteenth century with costumbrismo. An interesting manifestation of this occurs in marquillas cigarreras, small chromolithographed papers in which cigarettes for the Cuban domestic market were bundled. In this fascinating medium, Fraunhar shows how marquillas served as sites of cubanidad (Cuban identity). Fraunhar argues that the images of mulatas on marquillas demonstrate colonial anxiety and the inability to clearly define racial, social, and spatial boundaries. Unfortunately, the images presented in this chapter were all misnumbered, disrupting the fluidity of the text.

Chapter 2 focuses on the performance of the mulata on the stages, dances, and streets of nineteenth-century Cuba. In popular theater, like teatro bufo and zarzuela, the mulata was one of several principal stock characters performed, along with the negrito (black boy) and the gallego (Spaniard). During this time, the connection between prostitution and mulataje became explicit, thus producing tension between the mulata as a symbol of the nation and desire. Several Cuban actresses found success outside of Cuba in Mexican cabaretera films, performing cultural and racial passing.

Chapter 3 considers the mulata as a sign of femininity, cosmopolitanism, and modernity. Fraunhar examines how the mulata was variously depicted on magazine covers and in avant-garde paintings by early twentieth-century artists such as Jaime Valls, Mario Carreño, Carlos Enríquez, and José Hurtado de Mendoza. Although an icon of modernity, representations of the mulata were still rooted in past tropes of desire and availability. After the revolution of 1959, women’s roles in society were debated as leaders struggled to redefine the nation.

In Chapter 4, Fraunhar investigates how the revolution sought to reform the mulata as a revolutionary citizen. Several Cuban films produced in the 1960s and 1970s have mulata protagonists, presented to showcase how Cuban revolutionary society was constructed upon utopian ideas of equality and community. The mulata became the “new (wo)man” of the revolution (157).

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the beginning of the Período Especial, cultural production was disrupted, and economic crisis ensued. Cuba now positioned itself to foreign visitors as an exotic, nostalgic, tropical tourist destination. Mulatas resumed the role of the sensual, the desirable, and available body of the nation. The rise of jineterismo (hustling) and prostitution associated with the mulata became ubiquitous in Cuba in the 1990s, as did the emergence of drag and cross-gender performativity.

In Chapter 5, Fraunhar discusses the work of several photographers who capture the plight and agency of these mulata jinetera, gay, and trans performers.

A strength of this study is the wide range of popular visual culture that is included, though at times this means less in-depth analysis of specific…

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , ,

Mexican Costumbrismo: Race, Society, and Identity in Nineteenth-Century Art

Posted in Books, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Mexico, Monographs on 2019-11-03 03:05Z by Steven

Mexican Costumbrismo: Race, Society, and Identity in Nineteenth-Century Art

Pennsylvania State University Press
180 pages
8″ × 10″
31 color/29 b&w illustrations
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-07907-3

Mey-Yen Moriuchi, Assistant Professor of Art History
LaSalle University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Cover image for Mexican Costumbrismo: Race, Society, and Identity in Nineteenth-Century Art By Mey-Yen Moriuchi

The years following Mexican independence in 1821 were critical to the development of social, racial, and national identities. The visual arts played a decisive role in this process of self-definition. Mexican Costumbrismo reorients current understanding of this key period in the history of Mexican art by focusing on a distinctive genre of painting that emerged between 1821 and 1890: costumbrismo.

In contrast to the neoclassical work favored by the Mexican academy, costumbrista artists portrayed the quotidian lives of the lower to middle classes, their clothes, food, dwellings, and occupations. Based on observations of similitude and difference, costumbrista imagery constructed stereotypes of behavioral and biological traits associated with distinct racial and social classes. In doing so, Mey-Yen Moriuchi argues, these works engaged with notions of universality and difference, contributed to the documentation and reification of social and racial types, and transformed the way Mexicans saw themselves, as well as how other nations saw them, during a time of rapid change for all aspects of national identity.

Carefully researched and featuring more than thirty full-color exemplary reproductions of period work, Moriuchi’s study is a provocative art-historical examination of costumbrismo’s lasting impact on Mexican identity and history.


  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. Racialized Social Spaces in Casta and Costumbrista Painting
  • 2. Traveler-Artists’ Visions of Mexico
  • 3. Literary Costumbrismo: Celebration and Satire of los tipos populares
  • 4. Local Perspectives: Mexican Costumbrista Artists
  • 5. Costumbrista Photography
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Tags: , , ,

Association for Critical Race Art History: Building a Multiracial American Past

Posted in History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Live Events, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2015-02-10 20:28Z by Steven

Association for Critical Race Art History: Building a Multiracial American Past

CAA 103rd Annual Conference
College Art Association
New York, New York
2015-02-11 through 2015-02-14

Session Location/Time:
New York Hilton Midtown
2nd Floor, Sutton Parlor Center
1335 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York 10019
2015-02-11, 12:30-14:00 EST (Local Time)

Charles Paxson, Learning is Wealth. Wilson, Charley, Rebecca, and Rosa. Slaves from New Orleans, 1864

Free and open to the public.


Susanna Gold, Assistant Professor of Art History
Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture


“The Drop Sinister: Harry Watrous’s Visualization of the ‘One Drop Rule’”
Mey-Yen Moriuchi, Assistant Professor of Art History
La Salle University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“You Are What You Eat: Racial Transformation and Miscegenation in Nineteenth-Century Representations of Food”
Shana Klein
Department of Art History
University of New Mexico

“‘Half-Breed’: Picturing Native American Identity in the Early Nineteenth Century”
Elizabeth W. Hutchinson, Associate Professor of Art History
Barnard College, Columbia University

For more information, click here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Art of Conversation: Eighteenth-Century Mexican Casta Painting

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Mexico on 2013-05-27 00:02Z by Steven

The Art of Conversation: Eighteenth-Century Mexican Casta Painting

SHIFT: Graduate Journal of Visual and Material Culture
Issue 5, 2012
25 pages

Mey-Yen Moriuchi
Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Traditionally, casta paintings have been interpreted as an isolated colonial Mexican art form and examined within the social historical moment in which they emerged. Casta paintings visually represented the miscegenation of the Spanish, Indian and Black African populations that constituted the new world and embraced a diverse terminology to demarcate the land’s mixed races. Racial mixing challenged established social and racial categories, and casta paintings sought to stabilize issues of race, gender and social status that were present in colonial Mexico.

Concurrently, halfway across the world, another country’s artists were striving to find the visual vocabulary to represent its families, socio-economic class and genealogical lineage. I am referring to England and its eighteenth-century conversation pictures. Like casta paintings, English conversation pieces articulate beliefs about social and familial propriety. It is through the family unit and the presence of a child that a genealogical statement is made and an effigy is preserved for subsequent generations. Utilizing both invention and mimesis, artists of both genres emphasize costume and accessories in order to cater to particular stereotypes.

I read casta paintings as conversations like their European counterparts—both internal conversations among the figures within the frame, and external ones between the figures, the artist and the beholder. It is my position that both casta paintings and conversation pieces demonstrate a similar concern with the construction of a particular self-image in the midst of societies that were apprehensive about the varying conflicting notions of socio-familial and socio-racial categories.

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , ,