The Light Inside: Abakua Society Arts and Cuban Cultural History

A groundbreaking study of a secret Afro-Cuban society, its sacred arts, and their role in modern Cuban cultural history The Abakuá Society is a system of men’s fraternal lodges developed by African slaves and, later, creoles in urban Cuba. Drawing on years of fieldwork in the country, Brown builds his novel approach around examinations of dazzling Abakuá altars, chalk-drawn signs, and full-body masquerades worn in ceremonies. His art history goes far beyond tracing changes in styles to show how they evolve through cycles of tradition and renovation.

“The light inside” reflects the essence of the artists’ creativity and experience, which Brown treats with an insider’s passion and a scholar’s rigor. He describes how Abakuá arts have participated in Cuban cultural history, showing how the Abakuá Society initially became a force in port cities, controlling local justice and labor on the wharves; was seen as a “savage” threat to the Cuban nation; and was soon criminalized. By the 1930s Abakuá arts became a prime source for avant-garde primitivism and surrealism, ultimately becoming icons of national folklore since the Cuban Revolution.

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