Havana Biennials in the ISA

Remembering is Not Just Living Again

/ 23 July, 2019

With regard to the celebration of the 13th Havana Biennial, the criteria of some specialists on the subject and based on my own participation and experience in these events, I have reflected on this artistic process, which although it has maintained certain achievements, it has misplaced others that should be relocated today, according to the artistic requirements of contemporaneity in the current cultural context.

In this sense, I refer to the presence of the student artists of the Faculty of Plastic Arts of the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) and their professors in the previous biennials, especially those held in the 1990s.

What was proposed in 1994 by doctor and founder of the Wifredo Lam Center, Llilian Llanes, is of interest in the foundation of the biennials:

“For the first time we have opened a space for art students from around the world in the form of a creative meeting, based on the Faculty of Plastic Arts of the Higher Institute of Art (ISA). In fact, the students of the ISA have constituted a factor of extraordinary interest throughout these years for the participants of the successive editions of the Biennial. In this, it seemed fair to us to grant them an adequate space for exchange with other students in the world that would allow them to further enrich their cultural horizons.”

Therefore, in this direction, it is impossible to forget the samples presented in the spaces of the teaching institution, through a coherent and representative artistic discourse of the values ​​of artistic education at a higher level, of the quality of the exhibitors and their connection with reality. (…)

But, not only were the exhibitions of the students appreciated, theoretical events were also held that brought about valuable exchanges about art, its expressive and conceptual forms; the projects of other artists who offered lectures were made known; the works were debated; the exercise of criticism and the rich exchange of creative praxis was carried out. (…)

This aspect was of great interest for the organizers of the biennials and in the words of director Llanes it is clearly appreciated:

“It is worth mentioning that for us the exhibitions as well as the theoretical debates and the artists’ workshops are equally important.”

Also, the development of biennials contributed to the practice of teaching, as prestigious artists offered optional workshops, short courses or lectures on contemporary art issues or what was happening on the international scene regarding plastic arts and the participating areas on occasions quite unknown.

Thus the biennials collaborated with artistic teaching and with the implementation of singular curricula, arising from the new budgets for art, research and experiences in this field of knowledge, as well as their relationship with other disciplines that expanded and reiterated the visual culture.

(…) In an interview with artist and winner of the National Prize for Plastic Arts René Francisco, he pointed out:

“Of course, there was a very favorable moment in the ISA in which the study system changed and what is known as Plan C is created. It is the time when José Villa was dean of the ISA. It was very favorable.”

In that record of events, teaching methods such as the optional workshops, ennobled with the contributions of the biennials, were incorporated, as well as the contribution of the courses and the theoretical debates that were taken advantage of by the excellence of the teaching staff in a constant trajectory of updating the development of art and new conceptions.

Because of the above meditated, I think there was a close relationship, a true fiesta of art in those biennials, whose imprint is necessary to remember and value based on memory and contemporaneity to always project a perspective of futurity.

(…) It is said that remembering is to live again, but it would be better to ponder that it is essential to know the past to propose the future, because it is impossible to live again.

As Llilian Llanes put it in her conception of the biennial thought as:

“(…) a space in which artists from this part of the planet could get to know each other better, exchange ideas, ways of working, concepts and points of view, as a platform from which to project their work towards the rest of the world, and establish their own vision.”

Thus I think that what is required today is a different vision, a contemporary look, a new and creative rereading that awakens new expectations in the face of the challenge of the art of our time.

Pilar Fernández Prieto

Graduate in Art History. Professor at the Faculty of Arts and Letters in Havana University and the Higher Institute of Arts. Between 1995 and 1998 she was the director of the National Museum of Fine Arts. She has published several texts on Cuban architecture, particularly on Art Deco.

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