The Havana Biennial was established in 1984. This year marks its 12th installment. What started as a Latin American and Caribbean exhibition has grown to include artists from around the world. Yet, the Havana Biennial continues to be an important stage for non-European art. This year's event features 200 artists from 44 countries, and d+c contemporary was there.
The Biennial is not confined to a single venue; instead, art is strategically exhibited throughout the city in galleries, museums, hotels, and other alternative spaces.
The Hotel Conde de Villanueva, for example, showcases the photographs of Julio Larramendi. He captures the beauty of otherwise banal daily activities by focusing on the individuals' humanity.
The courtyard of the Hotel Marqués de Prado Ameno proves a perfect space for Movimiento by Herman Skretting and Orlando Gutierrez Yedra. There is something poetic about the visitors' ability to freely move through the open space while viewing the images of two young boys interacting with their environment.
The fact that the Biennial is not limited to a single exhibition locale transforms Havana into an open air museum. The city feels alive with art. Already culturally rich, the Biennial widens the possibility of encountering even more art at each turned corner.
Throughout the city, there are sculptures paying tribute to important historical figures such as Jose Martí.
Art is literally everywhere. A stroll to the Chocolate Museum is briefly interrupted as performers sing and dance in the streets.
While walking through this teeming city, we happen upon the courtyard of Art is literally everywhere. A stroll to the Chocolate Museum is briefly interrupted as performers sing and dance in the streets.La Casa de Benito Juarez which is a museum that highlights Mexico's history, culture, and relationship with Cuba. I see this beautiful intricately designed mural.
The Biennial along with the public and street art allows for a continuous flow of traffic inside buildings, courtyards, gardens, and public squares.
An enclosed space is needed for the video installation Interrogatorio (2009) by Ignas Krunglevicius. This installation is one of the most provocative I have ever seen. In Interrogatorio, the 'unknown' is what makes it compelling.
Victor Ekpuk's Meditaciones sobre recuerdos (2015) is a site specific work. His desire is "to create a contemporary shrine of memory of the Ibibio, Ejagham, Kwa, Efut, and Efik ancestors who were brought in slave ships to Cuba."
Upon entering the room, the visitor has a feeling of constraint. The high walls and ceiling along with the rectangular shape of the room aid in this regard. The walls bear drawings of countless figures symbolizing individuals forced through the Middle Passage. Undulating lines representing ocean waves encase the room.
While physically a drawing, Meditaciones sobre recuerdos is much more. According to Ekpuk, it is poetry, song, and incantation to honour "these ancestors in the Diaspora."
At the end of the Biennial, the drawing is erased. This final act "exemplifies the notion of memory (identity) as [an] ephemeral condition that is contantly being affected, reshaped and redefined by circumstances."
On our last day, soon after leaving the exhibition Transparencias featuring thepaintings of Isabel Bustos and José Eduardo Yanes, we encounter a performance by Danza Teatro Retazos choreographed by the multitalented Bustos. She is a painter and choreographer. I have the privilege of meeting Bustos and sitting next to her during the performance.
As she watches the dancers, her body sways gently, her foot taps, and her hand raises and delicately sweeps up, down, and side to side. Her gestures are that of an orchestral director or, in her case, as that of a painter. With smiling nods of approval and subtle indications to adjust an article of clothing, Bustos remains connected with each dancer.
Bustos embodies art. As I watch the performance, I feel that I am also experiencing one of her paintings. The sweeping movement of a brush and the swaying movement of a body. Each with careful and exact precision yet organic in its individual flow. It is art in motion, it is profoundly moving, and it is the perfect way to end our time in Cuba.
The Havana Biennial is a great experience and d+c contemporary is grateful to have been in attendance.
Stay tuned for our next adventure!