Department of European Languages and Cultures

Guantánamo, Cuba and the Arts

In brief

Title - Guantánamo, Cuba and the Arts

Guest speaker - Dr Esther Whitfield (Brown University)

Discussants - Dr Frauke Matthes (University of Edinburgh) and Professor Federica Pedriali (University of Edinburgh)

Introduction - Dr Jessica Gordon-Burroughs (University of Edinburgh)

About the event

Guantánamo, Cuba: a place whose legal contortions and human rights abuses continue to preoccupy advocates, activists and scholars, as thirty-nine men face old age at American prisons there.

A place, moreover, where the Cuban government has long decried the illegal occupation of the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, while Cuban migrants attempt to cross the base’s land-mined fence-line. 

Defined in the public eye by the hostilities and injustices that have underpinned the “War on Terror” and Cuba’s anti-imperialist rhetoric, Guantánamo is nevertheless a place of solidarities and sympathies, that find in literature and art representations unavailable through legal and political processes.

Detainee writers seek solace in the proximity of Cuba, while Cubans imagine the lives of detainees; prison guards break ranks to engage with their charges, and border guards share vulnerabilities with the migrants they intercept. 

This talk offers a reading of the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo and the surrounding areas of Eastern Cuba as a borderland region that shares a natural environment, a marking of human lives by isolation, and a body of literature and art privileging survival over political hostility.

It draws on an archive of poetry, art and memoirs by detainees and military personnel at the base and by Cubans nearby to trace relationships between literature and other forms of representation, and between this isolated corner of Cuba and the rest of the world.

The event will be introduced by Dr Jessica Gordon-Burroughs (University of Edinburgh).

After the talk, refreshments will be served and there will be time to reflect and discuss the topic with each other.

About the guest speaker

Esther Whitfield is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Hispanic Studies at Brown University.

She is author of 'Cuban Currency: The Dollar and ‘Special Period’ Fiction' (University of Minnesota Press, 2008), editor of a critical edition of Antonio José Ponte’s 'Un arte de hacer ruinas' (2005), co-editor with Jacqueline Loss of an anthology of Cuban short fiction in translation, 'New Short Fiction from Cuba' (2008), and co-editor with Anke Birkenmaier of a collection of essays on post-1989 Havana, 'Havana Beyond the Ruins' (2011).

She has published articles on literary writing in post-Soviet Cuba, Welsh-language writing in Patagonia, and borders, visibility and surveillance at the Guantánamo naval base.

Her current work focuses on representations of Guantánamo in art, literature and law.

Browse discussant profiles

Dr Frauke Matthes (Senior Lecturer in German and the Director of the MSc in Comparative Literature, University of Edinburgh)

Professor Federica Pedriali (Professor of Literary Metatheory and Modern Italian Studies, University of Edinburgh)

Dr Jessica Gordon-Burroughs (Lecturer in Latin American Studies and Visual Culture, University of Edinburgh)

How to join

The event is free, and everyone is welcome.

This is an in-person event. Just come along if you're interested, no booking required.

If you have any questions, please email the organiser Dr Jessica Gordon-Burroughs.

Contact Jessica Gordon-Burroughs


This talk is sponsored at the University of Edinburgh by the MSc in Comparative Literature, Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American Studies (SPLAS), and the Centre for Contemporary Latin American Studies.

MSc in Comparative Literature

Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American Studies

Centre for Contemporary Latin American Studies

Jun 01 2022 -

Guantánamo, Cuba and the Arts

Join us in person for a talk on representations of Guantánamo in art and literature by Dr Esther Whitfield (Brown University).

Project Room, 1.06
University of Edinburgh
50 George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LH