A new and necessary examination of how nineteenth-century Cuban white elites viewed the natural world, material culture, and political power as intertwined
In the decades before the Cuban wars of independence, white elites exploited the island’s natural history and culture to redefine racial identity and reassert authority. These practices occurred in the face of challenges to their political power from Cubans of mixed race and as Cuba’s dependence on sugar led to ecological and economic precarity.
Lee Sessions uses close visual analysis to investigate how white elites wielded power by manipulating material culture, placing in conversation for the first time the natural history museums, botanical gardens, and thousands of paintings, drawings, and prints produced in and about Cuba from 1820 to 1860. This important and novel book explores how groups used material culture to imagine their own future at a moment when racial and political dynamics were changing rapidly and intersecting with an ecological disaster of unimaginable scale.
Lee Sessions is an art historian and permanent collections associate curator at El Museo del Barrio. Having held positions at the Yale Center for British Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Lohin Geduld Gallery, he now lives in Brooklyn, NY.
“This revisionist, original, and timely work breaks new ground in its linking of science, race, physical spaces, human agents, and socio-cultural practices in nineteenth-century Cuba.”—Paul Niell, Florida State University
“Lee Sessions ably demonstrates how elite whites utilized built space and visual representation to reify and instrumentalize their political, social, and economic power.”—Ray Hernández-Duràn, University of New Mexico
“This elegantly written book creates a compelling story of early nineteenth century Cuban art, politics, social history, exhibitions, ecological concerns and more through the lens of class and race studies.”—Edward J. Sullivan, New York University
“Lee Sessions’ Plantationocene narratives delve into the visual and material picturing of colonial power in Cuba that valorized constructions of the natural as the ecological disaster of monoculture sugar agriculture intensified in the nineteenth century.”—Maura Coughlin, coeditor of Ecocriticism and the Anthropocene in Nineteenth-Century Art and Visual Culture
“Featuring an impressive visual catalog, this book explores the late colonial Spanish Caribbean through reevaluating the imperial and racial context in which images and spaces of nature and extraction were produced and instrumentalized.”—Luis Gordo Peláez, California State University
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