Esther Allen, a professor at Baruch College, City University of New York, is the editor and translator of José Martí: Selected Writings (Penguin Classics). She is currently writing a biography of José Martí.
In Antonio Di Benedetto’s novel Zama, there is no shortage of brutality. Not so in Lucrecia Martel’s film adaptation. She is kinder to her protagonist than the man who originally devised him—and for a reason: her Zama portrays a society so violent in its essence that there isn’t much Zama’s body or sword can do to make matters worse. This redirection of attention from individual acts of violence toward the structural violence of colonialism itself isn’t a departure but an acute reading of the novel.
By the time she made it, Brazilian artist Lygia Pape’s career had evolved through two schools of geometric abstraction—Concretism and its less rigid Rio de Janeiro counterpart Neo-Concretism. She had made paintings, sculpture, artists’ books, films, installations, and performance art. A retrospective of Pape’s work currently at the Met Breuer—her first solo exhibit in the United States—is highly conceptual, drawing on semiotics, architectural theory, and anthropology, but never losing a deep connection with the visceral realities of daily life.
In Castro’s Cuba, a compilation of photographs and text by the late Lee Lockwood, including hundreds of previously unpublished and all gorgeously produced photographs from 1959 to 1969, Lockwood photographs Fidel himself, and people who are looking at, touching and photographing Fidel. He also photographs the photographs and other images of Fidel that proliferate before his lens as the years wear on, before this omnipresent iconography of Fidel had begun to vanish from the Cuban street.
The hoisting of the Star-Spangled Banner in Havana on Friday, for the first time in more than half a century, has been met with perplexing and contradictory reactions in the United States. Such are the two faces of our simplified understanding of the Republic of Cuba: that only we in the US can save it, or that, by our very presence, we will inevitably destroy all the things that make it appealing to us. Neither view is shared by the Cuban people I talked to on the island this spring.