IS-PA-NO: The Cuaba Issue
By: Francheska Alcantara
IS-PA-NO: The Cuaba Issue is an ongoing series that entails two-dimensional works, sculpture and performances with its main subject being the Hispano soap-brand jabon de cuaba manufactured by the Dominican company Cesar Iglesias S.A.
It is said that jabon de cuaba comes from a type of pine tree whose wood was used to light up fires in rustic kitchens in the countryside. However, in its form as soap, el jabon de cuaba with its multifaceted uses (almost unimaginable in some cases) is a quintessential item in Dominican households and in the make-up of the Dominican identity. The uses of el jabon de cuaba range from regular personal washing, washing clothes, treating wounds and infections to blocking any leaks in propane gas and gasoline tanks. Additionally, it holds very particular connotations in relationship to womyn bodies as the-go-to item for “feminine hygiene” and as a way to test for pregnancy despite its harmful effects to vaginas’ pH levels according to medical studies. In general, all these uses bring to mind similarities between the Marvelous Real artistic movement and the Dominican way-of-life where the imaginative, the contradictory, the strange, and the hustle make the extraordinary happen in the everyday.
But going back to the Hispano part…
As an Afro-Caribbean LatinX person living in the US, I’m developing IS-PA-NO: The Cuaba Issue as an ongoing rumination on Dominican identity and the diaspora.
It is super interesting to me how this name that is “El jabon de cuaba Hispano” with its achieved brand awareness, holds such a charged connotation with our colonial history that extends into the sexism, patriarchy, and anti-blackness that have made their way into our collective consciousness. In addition, considering the language used to market the Hispano brand , I aim at posing the following: Haven’t we washed our black and brown bodies too much with “el puro jabon”? The soap “que cuida tu piel y tu ropa tambien“..?
By taking a signifier like el jabon de cuaba and developing work in different mediums, I’m thinking of the many uses and associations of the jabon de cuaba.
More importantly, I’m interested in the intersection of gesture/myth/re-interpretation and on the examination of cultural constructs which could be transcended and transformed.
About the Artist: Francheska Alcantara is a multidisciplinary artist whose work aims to (re)create narratives of fragmentation and longing. She’s informed by childhood memories, sexuality and the everyday. Alcantara has exhibited and performed work in the US and abroad at venues such as The Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Queens Museum, La Mama Theater, Art in General, Framer Framed, Andrew Freeman Complex and De-Construkt. She is a graduate of Hunter College and Old Dominion University. Francheska lives in The Bronx, NY. Find out more at www.francheskaalcantara.com