Decentering revolutionary visions : the politics and poetics of representation in Nicolás Guillén Landrián’s Coffea Arabiga
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In 1967 Afro-Cuban artist and filmmaker Nicolás Guillén Landrián returned to the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) in Havana after suffering months of confinement; first at a farm—where he was sent on a forced temporary reclusion for “improper conduct”—and later at a psychiatric institution. Upon his return, Landrián was not allowed back at the Documentary Department. Instead, he was assigned to work at the Popular Encyclopedia a section within the Non-Fiction Department responsible for producing State-commissioned didactic documentaries. That year, he was commissioned to create a documentary about the massive agricultural plan Havana Greenbelt designed by the government to increase agricultural production in the island’s capital and promote national unity. The documentary would focus on the production of coffee and the mobilization of thousands of city dwellers to the agricultural fields in the outskirts of the city. The following year Landrián finishes Coffea Arabiga, a documentary that breaks away from the conventions of the institutional didactic documentary to question revolutionary politics of representation and its regime of visibility. This study considers the didactic documentary Coffea Arabiga (1968) as a critical document for understanding Landrián’s vision as a black artist within the sociopolitical context of the 1960s in Cuba and challenges previous approaches to film practices in Cuba established upon the notion that they formed a politically and ideologically discursive unity given that they were created within institutional and genre boundaries. It is my thesis that not only Landrián problematizes the social and political objectivity of revolutionary discourses by revealing the tensions and contradictions behind it, but reclaims the presence of political and social identities that the revolutionary regime of visibility silenced.