Literary Littorals: Slavery, Emancipation, Africa and the Spanish Empire

6 April 2017 - 7 April 2017

Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT

Registration for the conference is now open. Fees are £25 (full fee) and £12.50 (one-day fee). This includes lunches and teas/coffees. It is also possible to pay a reduced fee to register to attend the conference without the lunch option. Registration will close on Wednesday 29 March. 

Please note that papers will be presented in English or Spanish.



Bryan Cameron (University of Cambridge)

Brad Epps (University of Cambridge)



Various theoretical frames—the “Atlantic Triangle” and the more problematic “Hispanic Atlantic”, among them—have attempted to draw together diverse geographic locations of the Spanish empire, but have tended to privilege the thoughts and actions of Spaniards and White Spanish-speaking Creoles. Not withstanding growing attention to the Atlantic as a space of exploitation, transaction, conflict, negotiation, creation, and resistance, much scholarship on Spain and its former colonies continues to operate within an Ibero-American loop that obviates Africa and the Middle Passage. 

By bringing to the forefront the African dimension of Spanish colonialism and post-colonialism, we hope to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the foundational trauma of slavery and its political and cultural legacies, whose British and Portuguese parameters have been more regularly and substantively addressed. Implicating over twenty-five present-day nation states in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific, Spanish, our project is necessarily cross-cultural, international and interdisciplinary. Accordingly, it aims to bring into dialogue scholars working in a variety of fields—Latin American Studies, Asian Studies, African Studies, Economic History, Historical Anthropology, Visual and Cultural Studies, Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies—in order to grapple with the discursive, visual, and material realities of slavery, the slave trade, and enslavement by other names and legal categories in the Spanish colonial sphere.




Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), the Modern Humanities Research Association, and the University of Cambridge's Department of Spanish & Portuguese. 


Administrative assistance:


We are unable to arrange or book accommodation for registrants; however, the following websites may be of help:

Visit Cambridge
Cambridge Rooms
University of Cambridge accommodation webpage

Day 1 - Thursday 6 April

9.30 - 10.00

Registration and Tea/Coffee

10.00 - 10.15


10.15 - 12.45

1) Atlantic Routes: Movement, Exchange and Maritime Economies in the Modern Era

Jerome Branche (University of Pittsburgh)

'Mare nostrum: Raciality, Stateism, and the Gran Caribe by way of Ramón Díaz Sánchez and Jesús Cos Causse'


Enrique Martino (University of Göttingen)

'Atlantic Remainders: Post-Abolition Forms of Unfree Labour in Spanish Guinea'


Lisa Surwillo (Stanford University)

'The Errant Slave: "La errante María" and Atlantic Traffic'

12.45 - 14.15


14.15 - 16.45

2) Re-mapping Hispanism: The Legacy of Afro-Hispanic Poetics in Spain and Latin America Today

Joanna Boampong (University of Ghana)

'(Un)making Hispanophone Bonds within Spanish Empire: A reconfiguration of Hispanism'


Landry-Wilfrid Miampika (Universidad de Alcalá)

'Poéticas diaspóricas de resistencias y emancipación'


Maimouna Sankhé Adebowale (University of Ghana)

'Del "migrante desnudo" a la "literatura migrante": evolución de la producción artística y cultural africana en el mundo hispano'

Day 2 - Friday 7 April

9.30 - 10.00

Registration and Tea/Coffee

10.00 - 12.30

3) Re-constructing Histories: Storytelling, Testimonies and the Oral Tradition on Both Sides of the Atlantic

Justo Bolekia Boleká (Universidad de Salamanca)

'La memoria entre la apropiación y la reapropiación en la creación literaria afrohispana. El caso de Guinea Ecuatorial'


Rosemary Clark (University of Cambridge)

'The Nomad’s Gift: Travellers and Tellers of Tales, Equatorial Guinean Women Writers and Oral Literature'


Graciela Maglia (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana)

'Resistencia afro en el Caribe colombiano: literatura oral de San Basilio de Palenque'

12.30 - 14.00


14.00 - 16.30

4) (In)Visible Subjects: Representing Slaves and Servants in the Trans-Atlantic World

Agnes Lugo-Ortiz (University of Chicago)

'Rostro, cuerpo, animalidad: Lógicas del retrato esclavo en la emancipación transatlántica'


Benita Sampedro Vizcaya (Hofstra University)

'Houseboy stories: Picturing Everyday Life for Domestic Servants in Colonial Equatorial Guinea'


Fabienne Viala (University of Warwick)

'Cultural Agency in Puerto Rico: Embodying the Heritage of Slavery in Literature and Visual Arts'

16.30 - 16.45


16.45 - 17.45

Closing Roundtable

Joanna Boampong (University of Ghana)

(Un)making Hispanophone Bonds within Spanish Empire: A reconfiguration of Hispanism

The centering of Hispanism in Spain and Latin America to the exclusion of Equatorial Guinea provides another dimension to the distinctive literary history of the only country in Africa colonized by Spain. This omission brings about a striking paradox for Hispanophone literature whose very existence is inextricably linked to its former colonial metropolis. Writers such as Juan Balboa Boneke, Eugenio Nkogo Ondo, Francisco Zamora Loboch, Joaquín Mbomio Bacheng, Justo Bolekia Boleká, Donato Ndongo, Raquel Ilonbe, and María Nsue Angue, whose work form the foundational fictions of Equatorial Guinean literature, credit Spain for the production, development and dissemination of their work. Even the more recent generation of writers like César Mba Abogo, Juan Tomás Avila Laurel, Guillermina Mekuy, and Trifonia Melibea Ntutumi rely heavily on the former metropolis for the publication and dissemination of their texts. If arguably, the major factor that impels this phenomenon among the older generation of Hispanophone writers is the repressive political conditions after the attainment of independence which saw the mass exodus of the country’s intellectual workforce, the continued absence of a receptive space for cultural productivity compels most of the newer generations to also look to Spain for their cultural productions.

Curiously, however, what Mischa Hendel describes as Spain’s diffident politics of memory, undoubtedly an offshoot of Spain’s material reservada law which prohibited the public expression of topics related to Equatorial Guinea between 1971 and 1976, appears to have translated into an attitude of ambivalence towards Hispanophone cultural production and its apparent occlusion from Hispanism.

With its heavy reliance on the former colonial metropolis for its development how does Hispanophone cultural production fare within itself? Does it actively seek affinities within Hispanism and if so how is this made manifest? Does it manifest the 'burden' of colonialism, especially given the seminal role Spain plays in its production and marketing even within Equatorial Guinea itself? What perspectives do its writers bring to its 'delicate' relationship with Spain, which Juan Bautista sees as having always 'dado la espalda a su excolonia, sobre todo culturalmente' and characterized by César Mba Abogo as one of 'amor y odio'? In reconfiguring Hispanism, what space does Hispanophone literature occupy? How does this feed into mainstream imperialist ideology?

The study critically engages the above interrogatives with a study of diverse Hispanophone cultural productions, focalizing Donato Ndongo’s Las tinieblas de tu memoria negra and El metro, and Juan Tomás Avila Laurel’s entries on his blog Malabo el blog de Juan Tomás Avila Laurel. 


Justo Bolekia Boleká (Universidad de Salamanca)

La memoria entre la apropiación y la reapropiación en la creación literaria afrohispana. El caso de Guinea Ecuatorial

El choque inesperado entre los españoles y cada uno de los pueblos que hoy conforman Guinea Ecuatorial, no fue ni necesario ni beneficioso para los segundos, bien fuera de forma individual o colectiva. La estrategia inicial y fingida de respeto, admiración y amistad de los españoles hacia las estructuras sociales de 'sus negros', facilitó la confianza y aceptación de aquellos por parte de las sociedades de acogida, llámense Ámbö y Bubi, primero, y Bisíö, Fang y Ndowè, después. Posteriormente se incorporaría a los Fernandinos o Krió.

Además de dicho fingido respeto, hubo un uso desmesurado de la violencia por parte de los colonizadores españoles, cuya finalidad era, entre otras tantas, justificar su presencia en 'su regalada Guinea' o en 'su' África Negra. Encontramos, pues, una doble y pensada violencia: por una parte, la física y, por otra, la moral o psicológica. La primera se concreta en la instauración del trabajo forzoso y el consiguiente desplazamiento u obligada migración interna. La segunda se define en la imposición de nuevas formas de pensar utilizando la Escuela o centro de aculturación, como eficaz agente transformador o exoenculturador. El resultado de todo esto está en la línea de lo que el Social-Learning ha descubierto hoy, es decir, las cuatro formas que tiene el cerebro de encauzar el aprendizaje: habituación, asociación, imitación y mediación. En resumidas cuentas, la apropiación de lo aprendido y la desenculturación o desmantelamiento de todas las estructuras de las sociedades autóctonas. Los testimonios inconscientemente recogidos por los escritores guineoecuatorianos se convierten en una búsqueda, reconstrucción y rehabilitación de las memorias alteradas durante el pasado colonial protagonizado por España; y segundo, en una descripción del tipo de contexto o espacio que se debe evitar en la real o imaginaria Guinea Ecuatorial. 


Jerome Branche (University of Pittsburgh)

Mare nostrum: Raciality, Stateism, and the Gran Caribe by way of Ramón Díaz Sánchez and Jesús Cos Causse

Mare nostrum appropriates an old Euro-centered imperial term to signal and celebrate a process of voicing and signifying from circum-Caribbean (Afro)creole subjects, involved in action-oriented reflection and cultural production around the meaning of diaspora, slavery, and coloniality.  Departing from the spirit and letter of the work of such writer-activists as CLR James, Aimé Césaire, George Lamming, Kamau Brathwaite, and Sylvia Wynter, the paper peers into the recuperative imaginary they created around the figure of the slave ship captive in his/her trajectory to marronage, or to a dubious and fraught national 'integration', by way of Emancipation and Independence  The paper also highlights the role of the Caribbean Sea as a space of ongoing diasporan movement and historical eventfulness, vis-à-vis terra-centric histories that privilege the landed communities of the state with its constructed orthodoxies.

My reading of Ramón Díaz Sánchez’s Cumboto (1948), highlights the alienating trajectory and content of this purportedly nationalist rendering of the arrival to the Venezuelan coast in the first half of the nineteenth century of fugitives from slavery, and their integration into a coastal plantation community. The story is told against the backdrop of the war of independence in the nineteenth century, and the emergence of nationalist heroes like Simón Bolívar. Díaz Sánchez’s racialist myth-making around fugitives who had come to Venezuela cum boto (by boat), offers a fruitful contrast with Cos Causse’s lyrical explorations, in the context of the Cuban Revolution, of similar black diasporan (Caribbean) subjects, and their confrontation with statelessness and the challenges to integration occasioned by movement and marginalization. The evolution into a narrative of purportedly egalitarian 'racial democracy', of what was crudely put by Bolívar as pardocracia, in the first case, and the navigation of the pitfalls of orthodoxy under socialism’s premise of racial equality in the second case, make these works, I suggest, particularly revealing of the experience of liminality and its narration in the Hispanophone Caribbean. 


Rosemary Clark (University of Cambridge)

The Nomad’s Gift: Travellers and Tellers of Tales, Equatorial Guinean Women Writers and Oral Literature 

This paper addresses the shifting status of texts, bodies and places in works by Equatorial Guinean women writers from the 1970s to the present day. Its main focus is on creative strategies that bring centuries-old oral traditions from diverse ethnic cultures and geographical locations into interaction with modernity and migrant experience. I explore encounters between traditional oral storytelling and the lettered city in women’s journeys from the village to the town within Guinea, from Africa to Spain, and returning to Africa. Rosi Braidotti’s term nomads and her theory of transpositions draw attention, beyond the anonymity of migrations, to the separate identities and will for self-determination and self-expression of women writers. The Nomad’s gift to the cultures they inhabit is that 'algo que allí, allá, donde fuera, no tenían: algo que solamente tiene el que ha sido arrancado de raíz, el errante, el que se encuentra un día sin nada bajo el cielo y sin tierra; el que ha sentido el peso del cielo sin tierra que lo sostenga'. The timespan of written literature in Equatorial Guinea is brief but production by women is varied and accelerating. From poetess Raquel Ilombé in the 1970s to present-day cuentista Angela Nzambi and novelist Victoria Epita Ika, poetry, dance, song and cuentos from Equatorial Guinea’s oral traditions underpin the work of new writers who experiment with genres that embrace documentary, novels, poetry, plastic arts and poetic prose narrative to explore and communicate their experience across shores and in shifting cultural communities.


Agnes Lugo-Ortiz (University of Chicago)

Rostro, cuerpo, animalidad: Lógicas del retrato esclavo en la emancipación transatlántica

En la tradición pictórica moderna occidental, el género del retrato ha sido concebido como una de las tecnologías de representación privilegiadas para la producción visual del sujeto en una ilusión metafísica de estabilidad, autonomía, autoposesión, soberanía y trascendencia. Esto es: justamente de todo aquello que constituye 'lo otro' de la condición esclava. Nada más alejado, en apariencia, de la lógica visual del retrato, con sus insistencia figurativa en el rostro, que los imperativos de hípervisibilidad corporal propios de la plantación esclavista. En su sentido más crudo, por ellos se pretendió instanciar al esclavo como el objeto de una vigilancia permanente, como presencia compulsoriamente disponible a la lujuria óptica del dominio. Cuerpo destinado a habitar el presente eterno de la produción, o bien cuerpo para la reproducción y el castigo, dentro de esa lógica visual el ser esclavizado estaba llamado a devenir la morada de un no-sujeto, una entidad desprovista de memoria e historia. En tanto pura inmanencia, su ser estaba convocado a ser más cuerpo que rostro, excepto cuando se trataba de codificar su identidad en la trama criminal del delito. ¿En qué condiciones, pues, pudo entrar el esclavo a una esfera en apariencia regida por una lógica tan adversa a su condición de vida como la del retrato visual?

En esta ponencia me interesa confrontar estas dos lógicas visuales (la del mito del retratismo occidental y la de la esclavitud de plantación) a partir de dos retratos de esclavas producidos en momentos clave de los procesos emancipatorios del mundo transalántico: la Revolución Francesa y el umbral de las guerras por la independencia cubana. ¿Mediante qué procedimientos y con qué efectos se presenció el sujeto esclavo en el retrato? ¿Cuáles fueran las particularidades de su constitución visual en coyunturas marcadas por dislocaciones políticas y sociales profundamente radicales y qué distancia media entre ellas? ¿Cómo se disputó la violencia de la maquinaria esclavista ante las ficciones de sujeto asociadas al retratismo? O para decirlo de otra forma, ¿qué guerra se libró sobre el lienzo entre la sujeción del rostro humano y aquello que la mercantilización esclavista procuraba como subyugación animal? 


Graciela Maglia (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana)

Resistencia Afro en el Caribe Colombiano: Literatura Oral de San Basilio de Palenque

La comunidad afro-criolla de San Basilio de Palenque (Colombia) ha sido proclamada 'Obra Maestra del Patrimonio Oral e Inmaterial de la Humanidad' por la UNESCO en el 2005, hecho que revierte su historia previa de discriminación y aislamiento. Descendientes de cimarrones, los palenqueros han desarrollado en los tres últimos siglos una sociedad original, nacida en América. Su cultura, su lengua criolla y su oralitura son un producto creolizado con herencias hispanas, congolesas e inovaciones propias que hacen de Palenque una comunidad sui generis del caribe afro-hispánico. En este momento de proyección mundial de la aldea local, cuando la circulación de discursos desde y sobre Palenque surcan los medios masivos, más que nunca se necesita complementar los estudios descriptivos y denotativos adelantados por más de medio siglo, con un análisis interpretativo de sus prácticas discursivas.

Esta ponencia reflexiona a partir de un repertorio casi completo de la literatura oral palenquera, levantado en su mayor parte en trabajo de campo, transliterado,  traducido al español, y analizado a la luz del debate contemporáneo en Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades. Hemos clasificado el corpus oral en once géneros: cuento, anécdota, historias vida, conversaciones y diálogos, poesías (décimas, coplas y juegos de velorio), dichos y refranes, adivinanzas, duelo oratorio, chistes, hablas disfrazadas y cantos. La oralidad desborda los límites impuestos por  las instituciones retóricas y que el locutor es propositivo en el momento de la performance, produciendo desviaciones de la norma literaria esperable y deslizamientos de género. Así, los actos de habla embragan y desembragan estilos verbales y funciones lingüísticas en el impromptu de la oralidad que discurre por cauces inéditos. La tradición oral palenquera desafía al investigador, tanto desde el punto de vista de sus formas composicionales como desde las visiones del mundo que expresa. 


Enrique Martino (University of Göttingen)

Atlantic Remainders: Post-Abolition Forms of Unfree Labour in Spanish Guinea

Labour scarcity is the running theme across Fernando Pó’s colonial history. Fernando Pó’s socio-economic trajectory is intimately linked to the late colonial history of Cuba by what settlers and colonial administrators (in many cases one and the same people) in both places called el problema bracero. The problema lived on in Fernando Pó and it came to underpin and produce a variety of new constellations between the Spanish Empire and West and Central Africa. The start of labour recruitment in Fernando Pó in the 1860s immediately followed the smuggling based slave trade that had continued to supply Cuba. However, Fernando Pó was less a direct continuation of the Atlantic economy, and more a Caribbean transplantation of post-abolition forms of unfree labour underpinned by Spanish imperialism. Labour recruiting for the islands cacao plantations, mostly took the shape of those techniques pioneered in the post-emancipation Caribbean and in Latin America, such as Chinese coolie labour or localized forms of debt peonage.

Different forms of labour mobilization and control were revived, re-routed and experimented with, starting with convict labour from across Spain and the Spanish Empire, free contract-less labour from Liberia and apprenticeships for captives freed from slave ships in Havana. By the beginning of the twentieth century obligatory indenture contracts were firmly installed on the island—a template which accommodated and generated an influx of plantation labour who arrived through formal indentured labour agreements, through local 'vagrancy' ordinances, and through informal recruiters who generated a flow of smuggled labour across the Gulf of Guinea with wage advances and deception. The last of these techniques, a type of kidnapping known elsewhere as 'shanghaiing' and 'blackbirding', was called panya in various West African languages, from the pidgin rendering of España. The presentation will give a sustained attention on panya to examine the dispersed and unsettling presence of the Spanish empire across the Gulf of Guinea. 


Landry-Wilfrid Miampika (Universidad de Alcalá)

Poéticas diaspóricas de resistencias y emancipación

La presente ponencia se proponer mostrar cómo en las distintas poéticas en el ámbito afrohispánico han tenido lugar proyectos a la vez de emancipación y de resistencia frente a una autoridad colonial y etnográfica hegemónica. A partir de una conciencia asumida de una larga historia de violencia esclavista y neocolonial, el espacio de la ficción ha sido un lugar de propuestas de discursos y de imaginarios de resistencia y emancipación. Más allá de la violencia estructural excluyente y la enajenación cultural consecutiva, estos proyectos (como el 'negrismo' en el caso del Caribe hispánico) legitiman las culturas de origen africano y sustentan igualmente la convivencia entre distintas culturas, así como la connivencia de memorias de etnias, culturas e historias, prefigurando novedosas configuraciones identitarias y representaciones transculturales.


Benita Sampedro Vizcaya (Hofstra University)

Houseboy stories: Picturing Everyday Life for Domestic Servants in Colonial Equatorial Guinea

The presence of houseboys, cooks, and other domestic servants was a key feature of the household for most Spanish settlers in colonial Equatorial Guinea in the decades before the country’s independence in 1968. Concerned with social and labour history within the close confines of domestic spaces, this lecture will attempt to enter into the colonizer’s home, and to unpack this presence, marked by servitude as a facet of colonial exploitation. It will investigate various unorthodox archives: from traces of servants’ voices left in scattered official documentation, to rare autobiographical sketches, to collections of photographs from multiple private family albums, all of them inextricably bound to the complex relationships that defined colonial African and Spanish interactions.

The practice of capturing houseboys in family photographs, often in positions of servility (lying on the floor, serving at the table, marginalized at one side, carrying the masters’ children in their arms, or performing other domestic tasks) speaks to the ambitions and pretensions of European immigrants in the occupied territories. Photographic depictions of everyday life, even if amateur, were designed in large part to convey layers of wealth and power, chronicling the ownership of land, property, objects, and people. Photographs, however, also put into motion multiple narratives: as complex carriers of meaning, they reproduce the site –and at times the action— of labour, telling stories of contestation as much as of submission. In critically assessing this visual and written archive (not in a systematic or comprehensive but in an analytical way), we can glimpse possibilities for alternative narratives, markedly different from those imprinted in the Spanish settlers’ memories. The brief, singular, moments captured by the masters’ family photographs exemplify the on going struggle over sovereignty and control in daily colonial interactions.

Although regionally defined, this story is neither purely domestic nor local, however, but also transnational. Spanish settlers did not trust local African workers for their household service; nor did the local Bubi or Fang populations accept to be subjugated to such domestic roles. Houseboys were therefore often brought into Fernando Pó and Río Muni from other countries, including Cameroon or Nigeria, a process tapping into much larger dynamics of labour networks, and into the politics of movement and mobility within the servitude industry.


Maimouna Sankhé Adebowale (University of Ghana)

Del ‘migrante desnudo’ a la ‘literatura migrante’: evolución de la producción artística y cultural africana en el mundo hispano

Los más de cinco siglos de presencia africana en el mundo hispano han dejado huellas imborrables en la cultura hispánica. Dicha herencia cultural africana que la antropóloga Nina de Friedemann definía como 'huella de africanía' es patente en todas las formas de expresión cultural en Latinoamérica (religión, gastronomía, producción literaria, lenguas, idiosincrasia, música, bailes etc...). Édouard Glissant habla de 'criollización' y Fernando Ortiz usa el término 'transculturación' para definir esta nueva realidad latinoamericana. No obstante, ciertas elites trataron de ocultar o invisibilizar la herencia africana en Latinoamérica dado que representaba para ellas un estorbo para el progreso al que aspiraban las nuevas naciones del continente después de las independencias. Tal rechazo cultural afectó también a la literatura negrista considerada como literatura menor incapaz de satisfacer el gusto oficial eurocéntrico. Hoy en día, todo parece indicar que los problemas de recepción de la producción cultural africana persisten. De hecho, la literatura producida por africanos o sobre africanos tiene dificultades para encontrar una amplia recepción entre un público con gusto oficial mayormente eurocentrista. En España por ejemplo, muchas de las obras escritas sobre la inmigración en general y la africana particularmente han tenido una escaza acogida entre el público y la mayoría está descatalogada.

Este trabajo pretende analizar las posibles causas y consecuencias de los problemas de recepción de la producción cultural africana en el mundo hispano (Latinoamérica y España) desde una perspectiva tanto histórica como actual. 


Lisa Surwillo (Stanford University)

The Errant Slave: 'La errante María' and Atlantic Traffic

By a Spanish royal order in 1836, any enslaved Spanish subject who stepped foot on free land was automatically emancipated. The law was unequivocal: ‘son libres aunque no quieran los esclavos aceptar la libertad'. Of course there were far fewer cases of people who rejected their freedom than wrongly enslaved persons who had traveled from islands such as Cuba to free soil, such as New York or France, and remained in bondage. The law remained almost entirely dormant for thirty-five years. The freedom suits filed during the First Spanish Republic by persons who had visited free states allow scholars today unparalleled perspectives on the practices of trafficking across an Atlantic world that--independent of imperial, national, or linguistic maps--Spain had divided into enslaved and free. Trafficking of goods and people is central to the creation of the Modern Atlantic that linked Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. We know a great deal about how traffic functioned on a macro scale, including the traffic in humans--enslaved, indentured or otherwise marginally unfree, and how it was depicted, but less about the individuals who were trafficked and how they understood the Atlantic aspect of their lives. I attempt to contribute to our understanding of the traffic of the Modern Atlantic through an analysis of the microhistory of María de Jesús, an enslaved woman in Cuba who was bought and sold numerous times and, by order of some of her many masters, had traveled to the United States and Europe. Unlike, for example, Equiano's Interesting Narrative, the story I examine does not have a single unified narrative voice, but rather is composed of several testimonies. This polyphony allows us to consider traffic from the view of the enslaved, enslavers, owners, neighbors, and other witnesses of María de Jesús's long history as a trafficked commodity and her keen navigation between the worlds of the free and the unfree. 


Fabienne Viala (University of Warwick)

Cultural Agency in Puerto Rico: Embodying the Heritage of Slavery in Literature and Visual Arts

Born with the exploitation and the enslavement of non-European peoples by European empires, the plantation system that profited Spain, France and England left the imprint of racism, discrimination and social violence on a number of postcolonial societies in the Caribbean. In the nation-islands of the Caribbean, trapped within ideologically rigid national agendas, art is the first and main facilitator of cultural agency. Puerto Rico, with the ambivalent status of Free Associated State, deals with a complex and multi-layered template of inherited racial discrimination. As part of my latest work on embodied memory and heritage in the Caribbean region, I will discuss comparatively the literary work of writer Mayra Santos Febres and the visual work of artist Daniel Lind Ramos, focusing on the body, not only as a topic and memorial site for witnessing the scope of slavery legacies, but also as a paradigm for developing the emotional grammar of what I will define as ‘empathic agency’.