To the Marrow of the Beast: Morphology of a Cuban River

Yo soy del Guaso

I’m from the Guaso

The Guaso, Mayabeque, Cauto and Toa rivers, among others, have made their way into Cubans’ veins, right to the marrow. Their water flows through time, space, and bodies. Rivers intersect with lives, stories, songs, and struggles.

Tengo rio que navegua
Por el medio de mi casa
Soy familia de los peses
Su poder a mi me abraza

I have a river that travels
Through the middle of my house
I’m from the family of the fishes
Its power embraces me

Rivers cross changing landscapes, meandering through flatlands and mountains, surviving as best they can the scars left by desertification, urbanisation, and soil pollution, often struggling to stay alive.

Located in Eastern Cuba, El Guaso is a river that crosses the city of Guantánamo where more than 200,000 people live. On its way to Caimanera Bay, the river’s arms wash away all the detritus created by this fatigued and deeply fissured urban monster. El Guaso is endangered, its decay affects the flora and fauna found along its banks; it also creates serious social and health problems. It is both threatened and menacing.

How did we let this happen? Our faces streaming with tears, our bodies move with the river.

The Guaso River partners with an artist collective from Guantánamo composed of choreographers, dancers, photographers, video-artists, musicians and poets, to help raise its transformative energies. They are called la Médula de Cuba ⎯ the “Marrow of Cuba”:

To the marrow of the beast, they listen to it
With the marrow of the beast, they become one
They are fierce

Strolling along the river banks, they stop and contemplate its worst parts, where industrial waste is poured, where garbage is left, where animals die—until they reach its source, where water still has the potential to bring life.

Choregraphed bodies in white in a cave on the Guaso river. La Médula de Cuba, 2021, Guantánamo

As they approach its banks, the Guaso River possesses them. Choregraphed, plural, enmeshed and situated bodies blur the limits of the individual body and become relational collective forms. Bodies are entangled and transformed by the fierce melancholia of this watery life source pummeled by voracious and unforgiving predators. With stiffened fingers and muscles taut, they pause for a moment as they unite with the flow. Their bodies morph into a different shape and energy, changing perspectives and responding to another sign, the sign of loss and contamination, of life under attack, a tragedy that no words can fully express. With their transmuted bodies, they convey the river’s voice; their message must be heard. But who is listening?

choregraphed bodies on the Guaso river banks. La Médula de Cuba, 2021, Guantánamo

Animals perceive in the same way as us but perceive different things than we do, because their bodies are different than ours. […] Corporeal morphology is a powerful sign of these differences.
(Viveiros de Castro 2009:72)

What if our bodies could take the shape of a more-than-human being? Would that give us supranatural powers? What if our new enmeshed morphologies make us agents in the transformation of a river’s being?

choregraphed bodies on the Guaso river banks. La Médula de Cuba, 2021, Guantánamo

choregraphed bodies in a cave on the Guaso river. La Médula de Cuba, 2021, Guantánamo

But don’t be fooled. The river is powerful and unpredictable. It plays using cards that are not part of a game. While the river bleeds and suffers, it can also be unforgiveable.

choregraphed bodies on industrial waste, Guaso river banks. La Médula de Cuba, 2021, Guantánamo

El río Guaso tiene una herrida que esta sangrando por dentro
No lo lastimes, que si se enfanda puede venirnos violento

The Guaso River has a wound that bleeds from the inside
Don’t hurt it, if it gets angry it can be violent

To its allies, the river gives strength to struggle, to unite, to speak up and dance, to cross the banks of singularity and individual consciousness. Their corporeal metamorphosis cries for one important message:

Salvemos nuestro Rio Guaso

Let’s save our Guaso River

Together. United. Transformed. We morph into the marrow.

La Médula de Cuba aims to raise ecological awareness among the people of Guantánamo, to reach out to institutions and create a conversation about improving our life and that of the river.

Art is our weapon, art is our bridge.

choregraphed bodies on garbage, Guaso river banks. La Médula de Cuba, 2021, Guantánamo

El río Guaso me motiva,
El río Guaso es la escena y tu mayor defecto,¿que piensas hacer?
Un canto de amor por un río q agoniza.
Yo si tengo causa.
¡¡¡¡¡Rebelde por un río!!!!!!

Everything I cherish, I support with Art.
The Guaso River motivates me,
The Guaso River is the setting and your biggest fault—what are you going to do?
A love song for a river that is dying.
I do have a cause.
Rebel for a river !!!!!!


To the Marrow of the Beast: Morphology of a Cuban River is, at the same time, an artistic project and a creative writing experiment. The project is led by the artist collective La Médula de Cuba to save, through art, the most important and polluted river of the province of Guantánamo, Cuba. As a group composed of dancers, choreographers, photographers, musicians, and video-artists, La Médula is interested in raising ecological awareness through embodied aesthetic forms. The ongoing project is composed of choreographed bodies captured on camera along the river, as well as original music and videos. As researchers, Alexandrine and Eleonora are interested in experimenting with collective creative forms of writing, including audio-visual and embodied storytelling, that engage with an affective approach to knowing versus a more traditional descriptive understanding of knowledge production.

This written and audio-visual collective story aims to imagine the Guaso river after-progress in a non-Western non-capitalist context. In an imaginative move through art we ask: what might be the possible future of the Guaso river in Guantánamo? What kind of politics and aesthetics does it require to rethink humans’ relationship with the river in non-progressive and more-than-human terms?

Contributor bios

La Médula de Cuba is an artist collective from Guantánamo, Cuba, composed of choreographers, dancers, photographers, video-artists, musicians and poets. Their work aims to raise awareness of ecological issues in the province of Guantánamo through aesthetic, creative, and participatory engagement. All photos and video are by La Médula de Cuba
Curators: Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier (University of Victoria) and Eleonora Diamanti (John Cabot University).
Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Victoria. She directed Golden Scars (2010), a film in part funded by the National Film Board of Canada about hip-hop in Santiago de Cuba, and co-directed Fabrik Funk (2015) an ethno-fiction about funk in São Paulo, Brazil.
Eleonora Diamanti is Lecturer in Media Studies at John Cabot University, Rome. She works on urban space, night and everyday digital practices in Cuba and Canada. She takes a special interest in creative feminist writing and research-creation projects. She co-directed After the Earthquake (2017), a short film on material culture in central Italy.
La Médula, Alexandrine, and Eleonora have worked on previous projects together in Cuba. Guardians of the Night (2018) is an experimental film shot in Guantánamo at night, directed by Alexandrine and Eleonora in collaboration with artists from La Médula.