by Sarah Block, Library Communications
The exhibition features materials that highlight how the physical characteristics of objects can provide insightful clues about the past and inform the present.
Curated by Meiyolet Méndez, interim chair of the Cuban Heritage Collection, and Dr. Martin Tsang, UM Libraries CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in History and Area Studies, Objects in the Archive includes three-dimensional objects related to education, industry, and religion in Cuba from the Collection and outside materials. They span commodities and marketing materials from the tobacco industry, Republic-era educational memorabilia, creative works such as artist’s books from Cuba’s Vigía collective, and a rich variety of religious objects.
Tsang, a former CHC Graduate Fellow, culled religious ornaments and sculpture, many from the Lydia Cabrera Papers, that document influences of Afro-Cuban religion on the island and largely informed his own doctoral work.
“As an anthropologist I’m very interested in these material objects that remain and the inspiration, symbolism, and value that is given to and contained in these materials.” In his ethnographic fieldwork Tsang, who is also an initiated Lukumí priest, has also studied Afro-Cuban religion in both Cuba and on our doorstep through interviews and objects including religious icons and Afro-Atlantic beaded art.
“In some cases,” he explains, “objects have their own lives. A sculpture, such as that of a deity, can be as meaningful in a person’s life far beyond the concept of an inanimate object, taking on its own biography.”
One such object, a cement figure with cowrie shell features honoring the deity Elegua, is featured in the exhibition courtesy of Biscayne National Park, where it was originally found and is part of a larger religious use study that Dr. Tsang has conducted there. “The materials used and the way it’s created offer insights about origins of time and place, and broader cultural patterns and mobility.”
Objects in the Archive is on view through August 2016.