La Siesta

Cuba Art Biennial: Between The Idea And The Experience

by Ewa Wrońska, Cuba Journal Contributor


Photo: Jorge Luis Rodriguez Aguilar (aguilarjlr), deputy director, teacher of graphic design, photography, drawing, audiovisual narrative

“Entre la idea y la experiencia” (between the idea and the experience) is the title of the 12th edition of the Biennial event, currently held in Havana. Where does the title come from? It is common knowledge that Experience is accumulated and developed over time. It is wisdom resulting from activity and practice, comprising certain knowledge, skills and reflections on a given subject. Experience helps build a context. As for the current 12th Biennial, the experience has been accumulated for over 30 years (since the 1st edition in 1984), significantly influencing the present shape of this event.

Cubans’ perception of art has evolved over the decades; there have been both ups and downs. In fact, the difficult moments were caused by the general political and economic climate. The first four editions of the Biennial (1984, 1986, 1989 and 1992) placed the largest island in the Caribbean on the map of international art-related events – in response to all art shows taking place in major cities of Europe (e.g. the Venice Biennale) or the US. Cuba’s interest in art was noticeable already on the first day of the Biennial (for example: 1st Biennial – 44,000 visitors over the first 6 days, 200,000 in total; 2nd Biennial – 5,000 on the first day, 300 000 in total).

Successive editions experienced numerous problems related to censorship as well as “periodo especial” (the period of Cuba’s economic downturn after the fall of the USSR), which made access to the show much more difficult – people could not afford the entrance tickets or fares required for traveling to Havana or commuting within the capital city. It is hard to be engrossed in art when your stomach is empty.

The organizers of the editions 5-11 focused on a more global approach to art, which increased the show’s visibility locally. Participating artists represented various countries – not only South America or the Caribbean region, but also Africa and Europe. Thus the international context of the Havana-based event was shaped. This year, 300 artists from 45 countries have confirmed participation in the 12th edition of the Biennial. By way of comparison, in 2012 115 artists from 43 countries took part in the 11th Biennial.

According to the curators, the selection process questioned how an artist expresses his/her individual traits and identity through art. Artists should express themselves through art. This way, art can acquire new meanings for spectators and co-organizing institutions.

The 12th edition of the event also highlights a notion from Plato’s philosophy: the Idea, the immaterial being existing outside of reality, which is not available to us directly. This references the nature of art itself – the idea created by artists in their work. They are demiurges who shape reality to resemble ideas in such a way so as to enable us to tangibly discover and see the immaterial. In effect, a communication process is established – through art – between the artist and the spectator. This has been one of the main goals of the 12th edition – to involve visitors, citizens, tourists and wide audience in general; to build a bridge between art and the audience, i.e. between ideas and people. Moreover, various forms of expression have strengthened the dialogue between artists and spectators: performance, theatre, videos, educational projects, etc.

The interdisciplinary nature of visual arts, crossing of various boundaries (relating to place, form, expression, etc.) and the energy of Havana allowed Cuban art to look and proceed into the future, at the same time inspiring reflection on the past.

The 12th Biennial in Havana has become an enormous international exhibition, reaching various social groups and hence becoming a part of the social heritage. The modernist idea has been supported through 30 years of experience.

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Cuba Art Biennial: Between The Idea And The Experience was last modified: October 10th, 2015 by Cuba Journal