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“Seeing in the dark”: the aesthetics of disappearance and remembrance in the work of Alberto Rey

Lewthwaite, Stephanie



This article examines how contemporary Cuban American artists have experimented with visual languages of trauma to construct an intergenerational memory about the losses of exile and migration. It considers the work of artist Alberto Rey, and his layering of individual loss onto other, traumatic episodes in the history of the Cuban diaspora. In the series Las Balsas (The Rafts, 1995-99), Rey explores the impact of the balsero (rafter) crisis of 1994 by transforming objects left behind by Cuban rafters on their sometimes ill-fated journeys to the United States into commemorative relics. By playing on a memory of absence and the misplacement of objects found along the migration route of the Florida Straits, Rey’s visual language transmits the memory of grief across time, space and generational divides. Rey’s visual strategies are part of an “extended memory” tied to the aesthetics of disappearance and remembrance in contemporary Cuban American art. His use of objects as powerful memory texts that serve to bring fragmented autobiographical, family, and intergenerational testimonies of loss together, suggests how visual artists can provide us with more collective, participatory and redemptive models of memory work.


Lewthwaite, S. (2017). “Seeing in the dark”: the aesthetics of disappearance and remembrance in the work of Alberto Rey. Journal of American Studies, 51(2),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 25, 2016
Online Publication Date May 25, 2016
Publication Date May 25, 2017
Deposit Date Aug 31, 2017
Publicly Available Date Aug 31, 2017
Journal Journal of American Studies
Print ISSN 0021-8758
Electronic ISSN 0021-8758
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 51
Issue 2
Keywords Alberto Rey; Cuban American art; Cuban diaspora; visual culture; memory; trauma; exile; migration; balseros
Public URL
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