By Irina Pino
HAVANA TIMES – Art can be thought-provoking, beautiful because of its intrinsic value. However, there is Art that adopts a language of non-conformity, in which the artist places emphasis on presenting their ideology as a transformative body. Taking action and saying something. Reaching out, making people understand.
The Havana Biennial is a contemporary arts festival that used to be held every two years, then it became every three years. It is organized by the Wilfredo Lam Contemporary Arts Center in Old Havana.
This great visual arts festival involves artists, curators, critics, journalists, but especially the general public, who are able to enjoy exhibitions, installations and performances in art galleries, museums, squares and all over the city.
Our first editions of the Biennial were the best, and it put Cuba in the spotlight, as the talent of artists who took part was quite the phenomenon, as well as their bravery as a form of expression.
Inaugurated in 1984, the first edition of the Havana Biennial was full of really new artists, and that avant-garde had a ground-breaking discourse, it shattered the myths of cultural statism and only creating art for galleries and art collectors; streets and public spaces were used to communicate with the masses. While the pieces were of a fleeting nature, they stuck in people’s memories, who still remember them today.
Other provocative artists appeared during the Biennials in the ‘90s, after the rafters crisis of 1994. They took it upon themselves to appropriate everything: they played with religious and patriotic symbols and universal values. They were willing to undermine the status quo in order to rise up amidst a rough and changing social reality.
That’s when the bomb dropped. Spaces meant for these exhibitions were closed down, exhibitions were shut down. An event like Street Art made the authorities uneasy.
Where did these artists end up? Many of these problematic artists left with the Mariel boatlift (1980). Others fled during the poorly-named “Special Period” of the 1990s, with invitations, grants, projects and exhibitions outside the island that saw them come into the world. And, they never came back. Cuban culture is indebted to them.
The 13th edition of the Havana Biennial decorated different corners of the city, including the entire Malecon seawall. It attracted a public, both Cuban and foreign, that took pictures and videos with their cell phones. But from my perspective it lacked a profound dialogue, as it didn’t provoke thought on the existential problems faced by a society subjected to many types of changes.
The international cultural event kicked off on April 12th and ended on May 12th. Its bright lights are slowly being dimmed.