Maya J. Berry is an Assistant Professor of African, African-American, and Diaspora Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her writing and teaching focuses on the politics of race, gender, and performance, with a special emphasis on blackness, the sacred arts, and spiritual epistemologies in contemporary Cuba. Berry earned her PhD in Social Anthropology (African Diaspora Program) at the University of Texas at Austin and her MA in Performance Studies from New York University. Her scholarship has been supported by the Ford Foundation, the John L. Warfield Center for African & African American Studies at UT Austin, the Instituto Cubano de Investigación Cultural Juan Marinello, the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center, and the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University. In 2015, she was honored with the Zora Neale Hurston Award from the Association for Feminist Anthropology.
She is currently pursuing two concurrent book projects. One, Performing Autonomy: Afro-Cuban Movements in “updating” Havana, is the first book-length study of Afrodescendent mobilization in the post-Fidel era, marked by the expansion of the private sector and amplification of racialized class inequality. This work features an analysis of activity in the community-based afro-religious market as a pathway for performing a degree of economic self-determination that is not afforded Afro-Cubans in the mainstream private market. The other, Choreographing Sacred Modernity: Race, Gender, and the Uses of Cuban Rumba Performance, is an ethnography about new trends in rumba performance during this same economic era. This study explores the gendered and racialized ways in which sacred repertoires are embodied by Afro-Cuban performers that speak to the nation-building project. This manuscript takes up the challenge presented by sensory culture studies to consider the limits of state logics to monopolize the sense of social order, through those very bodies whose racialization has served to define modernity through contradistinction.