Artist Proposes an Unofficial Havana Biennial

Yanelys Nunez Leyva

HAVANA TIMES — “The Ministry of Culture, the National Council of Visual Arts (CNAP) and the Wilfredo Lam Center of Contemporary Art have decided to postpone the celebration of Havana’s 13th Biennial as a result of the country’s financial situation after Hurricane Irma.” This is how the brief press announcement begins which the CNAP’s communication management team sent to people’s personal email addresses on September 22, 2017.

The suspension of the Biennial that was planned to take place from October 5th until November 5th 2018, has alarmed many artists, both in and outside of Cuba, if you bear in mind that it’s the most anticipated event in the country in the field of visual arts. It is a time when collectors, gallery owners and curators come to the island to have a look at recent works and thereby artists spend long periods of time working just for this super event.

In the wake of this news, some questions arise: Does the Cuban State have funds put away in the case of a disaster the size of Hurricane Irma? Or does the fact that it is turning to all of its institutions’ budgets simply expose the profound financial crisis that the country finds itself in?

Or if you want to look at it from a different perspective, maybe the government doesn’t want a large number of activists and artists, to have their own space to openly criticize when they have international media at the ready because of the event’s own promotion dynamic?

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, bewildered like many of us with this situation, has already launched an appeal on Facebook, the social network, to demand that this Biennial take place, with the participation and collaboration of every artist who has expressed interest.

The initiative isn’t about an act of insensitivity towards those who have been affected by Hurricane Irma, rather it is another way of questioning the system about its poor functioning and opportunism, Otero explains.

Meetings, networks and mainstreaming was the topic of the 13th Biennial, and when the director of the Lam center, Dannys Montes de Oca, explained the characteristics of this in April, the subject of decentralizing the role of the curator and the importance of criticizing the institutionalization of art was highlighted.  It seems that the Havana Biennial promises to take place, in tune with this prerogative.