Ediciones Vigia, Matanzas, Cuba

cover of Celare Navis y Otros Poemas by Cuban writer Antón Arrufat, from the University of Missouri collection

cover of Celare Navis y Otros Poemas by Cuban writer Antón Arrufat, from the University of Missouri collection http://www.lib.umich.edu/onlineexhibits/exhibits/show/main/ediciones-vigia/ev2

Named for the Plaza de la Vigía (Watchtower Square), which it overlooks from an airy colonial house, Ediciones Vigía is a collective publishing house in the provincial town of Matanzas, Cuba, about a 90 minute drive east of Havana.

Founded by poet, painter and stage designer Rolando Estévez Jordán and poet Alfredo Zaldívar in 1985 as a meeting place for writers and visual artists, Ediciones Vigía later evolved into an outlet for writers who were overlooked by the large publishing houses in Cuba. The mission was twofold – to circulate unknown literary voices in Cuba and to interpret and underscore those voices visually, creating distinctive, textual art-objects and installations in the process. In addition to little-known Cuban writers, Ediciones Vigía publishes illuminated editions of the works of famous writers like Emily Dickenson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges and Cuban poet Nancy Morejón.

The designs are highly symbolic and unique to each book. Most are published in runs of around 200, each numbered and signed. Reproduction is done by hand by local artisans, many of whom are volunteers. The only machines involved are a typewriter and a mimeograph machine. Most materials are recycled, donated or found. The typical canvas is brown paper, rendered in bound books or scrolls. Complex, collage designs involve any combination of drawings, paintings, fabrics, yarn, dried leaves and flowers, miscellaneous objects, and interactive elements, using a range of techniques, some centuries old.

Estévez also makes one-of-a-kind book-art objects and in 2014 started El Fortin, a separate venture, which publishes in English as well as Spanish, in an effort to better connect with Americans.

It’s fitting that Ediciones Vigía should spring from and thrive in Matanzas, which has long nurtured creativity and cultural expression of all kinds. One nickname of Matanzas is the Athens of Cuba.

Works from Ediciones Vigía are collected by institutions like the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the British National Library, the United States Library of Congress, and a number of university libraries, including the University of Missouri, which has produced a series of documentary films about Ediciones Vigía and Rolando Estévez Jordán.

Ediciones Vigía is open to visitors and works are available for sale.

Here’s a trailer from one of the University of Missouri documentaries:

 

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