“I want to contribute”: interview with young Cuban cultural professor and critic Ada Elena Lescay

Ada Elena Lescay, resarcher and professor University of Oriente, Cuba

For the young researcher and university professor from Santiago de Cuba, Ada Elena Lescay, the Hermanos Saiz association (AHS) [the national Cuban young artists association and funding body] is also a forum for the public debate on contemporary issues. She was interviewed here by Cuban press Juventud Rebelde.

Perhaps because Ada grew up admiring the work of her uncle, the renowned painter and sculptor Alberto Lescay, at first she leaned towards the visual arts. Then psychology and volleyball; she imagined herself making history in a team like the national women’s volleyball team ‘Las Morenas del Caribe’.

Luckily she realized that what she liked most was writing: “I felt like I had things to say,” she says. So she put everything else aside, and in 2009 she entered the Universidad de Oriente (UO) to study Art History. She fondly recalls those university days how, carried away by the bohemian impetus of the arts students she hung out with on Saturdays with live music and a spontaneous meeting of students and teachers at the ‘Casa del Joven Creador’ and discovered the Hermanos Saíz Association, which turned out to have much to offer her.

Today Ada Elena Lescay González is a professor in the Department of Art History of the Faculty of Humanities, University of Oriente. She has a master’s degree in Cuban and Caribbean Studies and is a restless researcher, specialist in anthropology, with extensive postgraduate training, with awards from the Critics and Research Section of the AHS in Santiago de Cuba.
Her writing appears frequently in spaces of cultural criticism and in publications such as ‘La Jiribilla’ and ‘El Caimán Barbudo’. Her judgments, sharp and carefree, are heard at important events in Santiago and nationally.

She teaches classes in Journalism and Art History at the UO, and confesses that she really enjoys the experience of contributing to the training professionals on a social level.

“Teaching is like encompassing three things I love: reading, writing and teaching. I love teaching, not because it has many things to say, but because it forces you to study and it is an opportunity to pass on what you have learned. It is a very enriching process; the young people give you a lot, especially what’s going on”.

Anthropology also came with university: “I discovered it and realized that it is what I wanted to study. It is a science that contributes much to the investigation of otherness; it has always been closely associated with the study of so-called minorities, which are not really such. That is the reason why I was attracted to this field.

“When I graduated in 2014, I went to work at the Fernando Ortiz African Cultural Center, and thanks to Dr. Marta Cordiez, its director, and Zoe Cremé, deputy director, I was able to channel those concerns. I even did a Diploma which has been very useful to me: my current studies owe a lot to the tools of that science”.

She may have been subjected to racial prejudice at times but she insists that she has never felt relegated for being young. But this intelligent young woman, who loves music and watching historical series on TV; who loves to go dancing with friends, participate in events, she knows she is part of a generation committed and eager to contribute.

—Your studies take you to topics such as racism. How do you think young researchers can help banish problems like this?

—Current cultural dynamics are very successful in the fact that it is an issue that must be discussed; but I am concerned that it will become one more campaign in the public debate. On the other hand, it is not just about talking, but about finding ways, solutions.

“In my classes I always dedicate time to show how all minorities have been represented through art: we talk about the issue of gender, racism, the Lgbtiq+ community. I think it is important to revisit history and see how anti-racist principles have always been linked to the formation of nationality and highlight a series of figures who have previously been invisible.

“There are also elements of subjectivity that must be transformed: the media must address how to deal with stereotypes; we must work to sweep away the myths of the sexualized mixed race woman and the black musician, criminal or athlete.

“It is urgent to offer a different vision, it is necessary to make more visible the black and mixed race Cuban family. But not as the one that needs to be assisted or helped, but the one that has managed to insert itself into society and produce professionals for the country; Those are actions that can help explode racial stereotypes that still exist.

“But the problem is not limited to black people. There are many stereotypes about people of Chinese heritage and there is satire against homosexuals that must also be banished. We must have a commitment to these issues, because they are part of Cuban culture.

“I insist on that to my Journalism students who are dedicated to production, and to those who have a more critical position, I urge them to be alert and to prevent [these sterotypes]. These are urgent issues, as is the environmental issue and building consensus for social welfare. That can help us to be a better society.”

Ada, who has experience in curating exhibitions, and is currently working on her doctoral thesis on cultural heritage, emphasizes that issues such as the role of criticism and cultural consumption are also crucial.

“More than art criticism, I prefer to talk about cultural criticism. It is no longer enough to make evaluations of traditional art: we must talk about how culture, the media, works. Every critic, in addition to being an opinion manager, is a public servant, has a guiding function of the knowledge of the population”.

Consistent with that vision, Ada Lescay is proud to be part of an Association that, now 35 years old, goes from strength to strength, but like for all young people, is not perfect.

“The Association has to work much more on its history and memory. Our history as an organization has not yet been documented on film or a book; This is important, because it allows you to know what you have achieved and where you should go; I speak of a polyphonic history, not only of Havana, but of the entire country.

“I also think that we should divulge a little more the ideological, political, and aesthetic precepts of the organization, not only the mechanisms to join it; that can strengthen the sense of belonging. And above all, I believe that the Association should never separate from its avant-garde spirit, beyond the slogan: defend the most innovative in the artistic field and be transgressive in the political position.

“We have found platforms, we use social networks; perhaps we could try to reach more communities, so that young art also reaches those who do not have the Internet.

Ada says she is convinced that contributing to the promotion of questioning and thinking about these issues is her responsibility: “Fortunately there are many young people like me who investigate these issues and have a great social commitment. I think what we have to do is do our bit. Maybe what I do is not that important, but I want to contribute.

“And the AHS is definitely a space of opportunities for that as well: not only because it makes visible the work of its members, but also because it is committed to putting the most pressing issues of today in the public debate. It is not the only one, but for me it is the ideal space for the growth of new spaces”.

Link to original interview in Juventud Rebelde in Spanish 30 November 2021