Cuba

One Blog, Countless Voices: El Sr. Corchea

El Sr. Corchea is an exquisite blog created by Elvia Rosa Castro Martín (Sancti Spíritus, 1968) in order to combine the testimonies and opinions from a plethora of Cuban authors and artists. Elvia Rosa Castro Martín obtained a Philosophy Degree and a Master’s in Art History at the University of Havana, Cuba. Currently she is an independent art curator, art critic and editor. Elvia is the CEO of the art blog El Señor Corchea, which is the first independent blog created in Cuba to promote Cuban artists and writers both on the island and abroad. She is Assistant Professor at the Art History Department of the Faculty of Arts and Literature at the University of Havana (Elvia Rosa Castro Martín).

 

Photo of Elvia Rosa Castro, CEO of El Sr.Corchea “Although I consider myself a woman of culture in the general sense, the world of visual arts is my specialty” – Elvia Rosa Castro. Photo credit: Elvia R. Castro

 

El Sr. Corchea is fitting for anyone infatuated by visual arts. Due to the profound range of topics addressed, this creative space will certainly make any individual question their day to day ways of life. El Sr. Corchea is extremely cognizant of modern-day issues with regards to the humanitarian, environmental, economic and political severities that are happening worldwide.

Overall, this blog is a safe place that grants credibility and authority to powerful Cuban voices. Aside from advocating Cuban artistry and narratives, El Sr. Corchea professionalizes the portrayal of these diverse accounts. The site is organized into various categories such as essays, interviews, news, reviews, and other miscellaneous subjects. 

 

“El Sr. Corchea is a speaker of high voltage” – Elvia R. Castro Photo credit: Elvia R. Castro

 

Elvia Rosa Castro should be continuously applauded for not just her creative approach towards El Sr. Corchea, but for the website’s immense inclusivity of opinions and voices. Typically, El Sr. Corchea publishes one post daily. While the blog consists of roughly 15 or more collaborators, the majority of their works involve descriptions and reflections of visual arts. Elvia´s blog is an eclectic powerhouse that strives for human to human connection and representation.

Oftentimes, distressing topics are highlighted in order to break down the barriers of closed mindedness and question what we consider ‘normal’ or ‘acceptable.’ Furthermore, the blog has sections where you can search for articles by the author, most recent pieces and most popular pages and posts. While the majority of these articles are written in Spanish, there is a myriad of texts in English, such as JAY MATAMOROS (ENGLISH VERSION)*WITHOUT MASKS: CONTEMPORARY AFRO-CUBAN ARTEL SÉPTIMO DE 27 HERMANOS/THE 7TH OF 27 CHILDREN and THE BRADFORD PHENOMENOM. For all of the articles composed in English, click on this link from the website.

Nevertheless, I find that keeping articles in the native language of the authors is empowering for both the creators and their viewers. However, if you are a non-Spanish speaker and are not familiar with the language at all, do not be discouraged from exploring and cherishing El Sr. Corchea. Given the advancements of modern technology, you can utilize an online translator to unpack the astounding creativity woven throughout each written reflection. 

Considering Elvia’s impressive cluster of experiences and connections from her travels throughout Cuba, Europe, the United States and other parts of Latin America, she has a diverse network of individuals. She has accumulated vast knowledge from working for so many years as an editor with Artecubano, teaching at the University of Havana and tutoring several artists who have graduated from the Superior Institute of Art. Furthermore, she  is widely recognized for her curatorship, which allows her to connect with artists and works extensively.

Elvia’s sagacity can be credited to a long road cultivated by numerous fairs  and  exhibitions such as, ArtBasel, Freeze, ArtMiami or other  biannual events where she knows very interesting artists. Many artists will write to Elvia, visit her or she will go visit them and exchange their dossiers. This creates her pipeline for potential authors to be published on El Sr. Corchea as well as fuels Elvia’s inspiration when crafting her own compositions.

Sometimes, Elvia  will come up with a memory of a certain topic that is recurrent in the testimonies or projects of other authors and from there, comes her next curatorship, text, essay, etc. Essentially, Elvia knows almost everyone: artists and collaborators. She understands and connects with many Cuban artists, which includes the subjects that they write about; therefore, she either investigates that specific text, or invites the author to collaborate in any way that they want.

Graphic that expresses the inclusivity of diverse authors within El Sr. Corchea. Photo credit: Elvia R. Castro

 

El Sr. Corchea has been digital for just over 10 years, but its conception and emergence date back to 2002. When I asked Elvia how the idea of El Sr. Corchea developed, she explained the initial processes and influences that have shaped this blog today.           

“I must tell you that El Sr. Corchea first emerged as part of a printed newspaper that we had (and still exists) in Cuba, Noticias de Artecubano. It is a publication of the National Council of the Visual Arts (Consejo Nacional de las Artes Plásticas: CNAP), specifically of Artecubano Ediciones.

I was the general editor and had two colleagues (Sandra Sosa and Héctor Antón) who were encouraged by my idea. This was a section where we published unfiltered conversations that we had listened to during the openings of exhibitions.

These publications were both crude and pleasant. None of us signed these articles because we were only “stenographers.” This was El Sr. Corchea. We were unveiling the words directly from these expositions and experiences.  

Many people in this profession were delighted with our section; however, there were also artists who feared the intense language of Corchea. Therefore, our section was censored and removed from the tabloid by Rubén del Valle, vice president of CNAP at the time. (The reality of the situation, is that it was really our audiences who spoke; we merely transcribed!) 

Years later, perhaps in 2009,  Luis Manuel Mazorra, current CEO of CiberCuba, was studying computer engineering and had a blog called, CubaSurf. After several conversations, he convinced me to start a blog. Thus, re-emerges El Sr. Corchea, but this time with stories, not just conversations.

That step was very important because there was no internet in Cuba at the time. Without really knowing it, we were beginning something monumental.

The two shores, La Habana and Miami, did not have as much coming and going as they do now, so the blog updated many on what was happening on the island. 

I remember the first time that I visited the United States in 2011. There were many artists who I didn’t know personally, but they all wanted to talk with me and mingle. 

There were people at LaGuardia airport who said to me: “Are you Elvia, El Sr. Corchea? That’s amazing.” It was a beautiful surprise. I’m still asked these same questions today!” 

– Elvia R. Castro 

         The historical background of the blog made me interested in finding out the reasons for its title, El Sr. Corchea. The name stems from a book written by the renowned French musician,  Debussy, titled, Monsieur Croche – Antidilettante, which translates to Señor Corchea, antidilettante. According to Elvia: 

“In the tabloid, Noticias de Artecubano, we wanted to design a section that was safe and usable, in terms of writing. It had to be something that was friendly and legible because at that moment, our writing was very filled with theory. We wanted something resounding, yet simultaneously light.”

– Elvia R. Castro 

Given the expulsion of Corchea within the publications of Noticias de Artecubano, I asked Elvia if she ever had any fears or doubts towards the reemergence of El Sr. Corchea. She admitted that yes, the digital aspects of creating the blog created immense uncertainty. Elvia mentioned that this was provoked by “the lack of knowledge of the virtual world that we had on the island.”

Luckily, Luis insisted on getting the blog up and running. At the start of its digital phase, Elvia did not run the blog directly. Instead, she would use an intranet email to send texts and images to Luis as he would upload them. 

“Even today when I’m in Cuba, that’s the modus operandis, but this time with Hector Martinez. Hector is the current designer of the blog as well as its campaigns and fan page on Facebook. He has contributed not only to the image, but also to the humor and cleverness of the blog. He is my right-hand man. I should also mention that this is the third digital version of El Sr. Corchea”. 

– Elvia R. Castro 

Evidently, taking on a digital platform from Cuba requires extreme flexibility and innovation. El Sr. Corchea is blessed with a dedicated and brilliant tech-team as well as Elvia’s creative spirit to keep the ideas and essays flowing.

While this technological jump may have been daunting, I was curious as to why Elvia preferred the structure of a blog as opposed to the other forms of media that are used to share ideas and opinions. 

“I come from a basically modern culture where print is of high value. No more than 4 years ago, anything digital was unknown. My best friend who lives in Cuba, has no PC, no cell and hardly any mail because she can’t pay for them. Essentially, anything digital has been a little out of the question for us. However,  in 2002, I started editing the SubastaHabana, both in its physical and online formats. It was the first experience of electronic commerce of art from Cuba. That fascinated me. This framework transformed into something essential, which is the nature of a blog. A blog allows you to be free, not only from official censorship, but from the very supposed structure of “serious” writing. I like the jazzy quality of the blog, especially its form of being “imperfect” or rather unfinished, because after all, it is a personal blog. The blog goes with my personality; sometimes defiant and restless as I work on what sparks my interest.” 

– Elvia R. Castro 

 

Graphic that promotes subscribing to El Sr. Corchea. Photo credit: Elvia R. Castro

 

As the functionality and popularity of El Sr. Corchea began to blossom, I asked Elvia about  the role of social media in the success of her blog. I wondered, which media was the most effective resource for acquiring followers and subscribers. 

“Social networks have been vital, especially Facebook. El Sr. Corchea is nurtured by its Facebook fan page and all of my friends on that network. Hector has convinced me to use my Facebook leadership to attract followers and to take advantage of the sympathy that people feel for me and me for them. Thus, El Sr. Corchea’s growth has been organic. Last year we did a very friendly and attractive campaign to involve people and make them feel a part of the blog’s growth. However, this is not something that is obtained in just a few months, not even in a handful of years. All of this sympathy has a history of loyalties, kindness, teaching righteousness and generosity when it comes to sharing knowledge. This blog is eccentric. THAT is what people follow. El Sr. Corchea is essentially me as I am full of technological gaps and ignorance about what a CEO should and should not do. El Sr. Corchea is depressed, has emotional ups and downs, and I believe that within its humanity,  El Sr. Corchea projects what people genuinely feel and connect with.” 

– Elvia R. Castro

Graphic that promotes subscribing to El Sr. Corchea. Photo credit: Elvia R. Castro

 

The gravity of El Sr. Corchea can be felt in Elvia’s transparent responses. While the blog harnesses self-love, growth and understanding, it also reveals the dark, uncomfortable  and unfortunate aspects of what we call life.

El Sr. Corchea is an apparatus to inspire and reveal creative beauty as well as a looking glass that forces the beholder to reflect, acknowledge and absorb.

Given this immense complexity, I wanted a deeper look into the frustrations and achievements of El Sr. Corchea

Latina Republic:  What is the most frustrating part of your work with El Sr. Corchea?

Elvia R. Castro: The disconnect when I am in Cuba and my absolute inability to conduct public relations. By public relations I am referring to my inability to seek sponsorship through funding. The two main factors of this obstacle are not being able to translate the texts into English and not having more followers.

Graphic that strives to promote funding for El Sr. Corchea. Photo credit: Elvia R. Castro

 

Latina Republic:  What is the most rewarding part of your work with El Sr. Corchea?

Elvia R. Castro: That people can have free access to artists and writers who they may have never known. Also, the impacts of sharing knowledge and being “surrounded” by people – virtually – all the time. Even more rewarding is the feedback from readers and fans. Without them, neither I nor El Sr. Corchea, would exist.

Upon exploring the dynamic being of El Sr. Corchea, I came across one of Elvia’s essays titled, FIGURA DE RETÓRICA Y CRONOLOGÍA DEL “ESTIGMA. This compelling article covers an array of topics, from social injustices to systematic constructions and the power of artistic creations and messages. There are two particular sections that fascinated me the most. Primarily: 

“Siempre he sido de la opinión de que cada jaleo entre artistas, críticos y medios autónomos sólo beneficia al poder y a la institución a la cual aspiramos superar” 

– Elvia R. Castro 

In English: “I have always believed that the hostility between artists, critics  and autonomous media only benefits the power and the institution to which we aspire to overcome.” 

Latina Republic: Could you further explain your thoughts about the complex relationship between the institution and artists? 

Elvia R. Castro: Normally, the censorship we see in the world is economic or for legal security matters. We also see the censorship that comes from the most radical reprimands. In Cuba, the censorship we suffer from is the censorship of the state based on totalitarian and robust political premises.

There is only one valid opinion there, and the mass media reproduces that unique view. If you think differently or try to carry out an alternative project, you are simply morally censored or discredited.

Therefore, we have alternative publications like my blog, ArtCrónica, 14yMedio, Rialta, Hypermedia, CiberCuba and El Estornudo. In my opinion we must save what unites us, which is our autonomous vocation. Say NO to totalitarianism in all its variants. Be plural and multiple.

Criticize. Don’t shut up. As for the state or any officiality, it is in their best interest for us to be divided, so that it is easier to neutralize us and our ideas. That’s on the one hand.

On the other hand, it would be a lack of rigor on my part if I denied that Cuban cultural institutions are not a part of the success of the artists. There’s a mix of everything. Art schools, first of all, not only trained these artists from an academic point of view but required them to open their eyes, to be avant-garde and to question the surrounding world.

The Havana Biennial Art Exhibition (La Bienal de La Habana) has been a key platform for the identification and acclamation of artists even if some are not a part of its central payroll. Similarly, the systematic ways of galleries throughout Havana have a ridiculous structure of central subordination and functioning, yet every artist has had their hand in that process.

The self-management of each artist has also been key. Social platforms are a very useful tool. Even censorship has been a side effect that amplifies an artist’s name.

Further into the article, there is another captivating assertion that speaks to our responsibilities as human beings. Elvia offers both an insightful and empowering proposal towards how we should interact and grow alongside one another. 

“Sumar y multiplicar. CO-LABORAR. Ser solidarios y empáticos. Unirnos. Ese es mi noción del asunto. Romántica lo sé. No desechar la voluntad crítica pero escoger bien nuestras dianas. Creo que a eso le llaman “responsabilidad.” 

– Elvia R. Castro

In English: “To add and to multiply. To Collaborate. To be supportive and empathetic. To come together. This is my view on this matter. Romantic, I know. Don’t disregard an essential willingness, but rather choose your goals and intentions wisely. I think that’s what they call, “responsibility.”

Latina Republic: Could you expand upon this quote with regards to who you think has this responsibility and for what reason?

Elvia R. Castro: I think we should all feel responsible. If we aspire to create an environment of respect for the other (technically, we are also an “Other” of ourselves) clarity, transparency and honesty are crucial foundations.

We must not go around the world by generating collateral damage, causing “friendly fire” casualties, and injuring people who are not our real enemies.

While that happens, while that wear and tear takes place, the Higher Powers watch us and laugh.

Captivating graphic design to emphasize the power of art and the inspiration that one can find within El Sr. Corchea. Photo credit: Elvia R. Castro

 

Latina Republic: What do you think is the most important or powerful part of your blog? 

Elvia R. Castro: In Cuba, almost no publication has a digital version, except those made by Casa Editora Abril. The rest have been only printed and the circulation of those publications is VERY short. Within the last few years, digital publications have emerged, but there is an arsenal of texts and artists that have been left in the past.

El Sr. Corchea has taken note of this and has set out not only to publish unpublished texts, but to recycle existing ones, since most people who navigate through the media do not know of them. I also publish news. However, it is more difficult to obtain unpublished works since the authors’ collaboration with the blog is free.

I have no financing. I do this literally for the love of art. So, I thank you infinitely and doubly for any collaboration that comes to my Inbox.

Definitely the most important thing about the blog is the amplification of signatures, texts and artists. I see the blog and picture it as a high voltage speaker. From there, some gaps are filled, such as an intellectual and cultural dialog that was curtailed for many years because we were all disconnected and isolated.

Lastly and most importantly, El Sr. Corchea creates networks, bonds and  affections.

Latina Republic: What’s next  for El Sr. Corchea? Do you have any specific plans for the future? Would you change anything? 

Elvia R. Castro: I would really like to make a newsletter for non-followers and those who are not subscribed on social platforms. Although I must tell you that for years El Sr. Corchea has been a successful project in terms of exchange and acceptance.

Elvia has always portrayed real life emotions and happenings throughout the representations of Cuban artists, their ideas and her own outlooks and experiences.

El Sr. Corchea stands for something more than just a blog. It embodies an omnipresent entity with the power to shape minds, traverse borders and inspire endless ingenuity.

 

El Sr. Corchea logo. Photo credit: El Sr. Corchea Facebook page,

 

For more information on Elvia Rosa Castro Martín: (Awards, books, exhibitions and lectures)

Elvia R. Castro has been awarded with two Calendario Prize in Essay (both in 1997), Juan Francisco Elso Fellowship (2000), National Prize of Curatorship (2005), the Grant de IFA-RAVE Foundation, (2007) in Germany, and the National Prize of Art Critique Guy Pérez Cisneros, 2011.

Her texts have been published in several art journals and she has six published books as a unique author: La conjura de los fieles (Ed. Abril, 1998), El mundo como ilusión y apariencia (Ed. Abril, 1998), Erizando las crines (Ed. Matanzas y aldabón, 2001), El observatorio de Línea. Repasos al arte cubano (Ed. Unión, 1998), Aterrizaje. Después de la crítica de la razón cínica (Editorial Luminaria, 2011) and Los colores del ánimo (Detrás del Muro Ediciones, 2015).

Elvia Rosa Castro has curated and co-curated big exhibitions at prestigious places such as Moving fast. European Media Art Festival, Osnabrueck, Germany, 2007; Arboleda. El cuerpo es cuerpos, León, Guanajuato, 2008; Reality Show. Confluencias Inside II, Hispanic Cultural Center, Albuquerque, 2009; Glamour de Occidente. Algunos homenajes a Michel Foucault, Bienal de La Habana, 2009 and Fonds SaintJacquesCentre Culturel de Rencontre, Martinique; Portugal Arte10, 2010; Ya sé leer. Imagen y texto en el arte latinoamericano. Centro Wifredo Lam, 2011;  Escapando con el paisaje, Havana Biennial 2012;  Tócate. Jóvenes fotógrafos. Galería Habana, 2013; Libros sin dominio, Havana Biennial, 2015; Cubans: post truth, pleasure, and pain, Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA), 2018; A Stone in a shoe, Havana Biennial, 2019. She has been co-curator of the well-known Detrás del Muro (Behind the Wall) in 2012 and 2015 editions at the Havana Biennial.

She has lectured at Wisconsin University; SECCA, NC; Wake Forest University, NC; Otterbein University, OH; Institut für Romanistik, Potsdam Universität; Lateinamerika-Institut, Freie Universität, Berlín; Institut für Romanistik, Humboldt-Universität, Berlín; Kunsthøgskolen, Bergen, Noruega; Norges Teknisk-Naturnitenskapelige Universitet, Trondheim, Noruega; Instituto de Arte, Guadalajara, México; Universidad Veritas, Costa Rica; Centro de Teoría y Arte Teorética, Costa Rica; Higher Institute of Art, Havana; Tania Bruguera Art Behavior Workshop, Havana and at Higher Institute of Art in Havana, where she tutored several graduate thesis.





Lydia Millhon | Wake Forest University
Lydia Millhon is in her final year at Wake Forest University pursuing a major in Spanish with concentrations in interpreting and translation/localization and two minors in Latin American Studies and Politics and International Affairs. Born in Columbus, OH, Lydia always found ways to get involved with community outreach programs. Lydia’s humanitarian experience ranges from tutoring Spanish speaking children to participating in local projects to raise awareness of the U.S. Immigration Crisis and creating a bilingual portfolio for incoming Spanish speaking individuals and families with a local non-profit organization, Columbus Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS). Throughout her Wake Forest career, Lydia has taken advantage of various study abroad opportunities including two summers in Cuba studying Cuban art and literature and a semester in Salamanca, Spain studying the language, politics, and literature. Lydia strives to combine her passions for cultural studies, especially with visual arts, into all of her projects and curriculum. Aside from her fascination and participation in modern dance, Lydia has experience in theatrical, instrumental, and poetic performances cross-culturally. As a part of the Latina Republic Correspondent position, Lydia hopes to further her studies in social issues such as immigration, human rights concerns, and state violence as well as other significant cultural topics including visual arts, environmental action, and local businesses. In pursuit of global human connection, Lydia hopes to unite Latin America with and open the eyes of those around the world.