The Paradox of the Construction of the Possible: 13th Havana Biennial

/ 23 July, 2019

The 13th edition of the Havana Biennial with the slogan The construction of the possible, was permeated by different proposals approved and/or coming through/from governmental institutions belonging to the Ministry of Culture, the National Council of Plastic Arts, private galleries, artists’ studios and independent projects. The composition of the expected event together with the instability of (possibly) constructing a biennial due to different agencies’ lack of resources; and, even so, carrying it out largely thanks to the personal effort of each of those who decided to join, invited or self-invited, driven by self-management.

(…) During the whole month that the Biennial lasted (until May 12), the artistic scenario was devoted to the outstanding event and the enthusiasm was evident, both in Cuban artists residing on the island and those residing abroad, plus the 300 artists from 52 countries directly invited by the Biennial’s Organizing Committee.

(…) In previous editions there has been a greater interaction of the public with the proposals in the urban space. What happened this year that citizen participation in the Biennial was fragmented? The disorganization by the main institutions that organized the event, the scarce material resources, the visible fatigue in the workers of these institutions, among other aspects, fostered chaos and lack of communication, increasingly reinforced by the trouble to acquire a catalog or a credential, at least in the morally correct way.

(…) The concern about visibility, the incentive of the market, the lack of collaboration and support, the desire to stand out with ingenuity, persistence and censorship, constitute elements that have permeated this particular edition in a fierce survival of Cuban art with or without the Biennial. A relevant aspect in the midst of so many adversities and deficiencies is the massive decentralization of the event. All this together with an arduous work of public relations, commercial interests, reunions among friends, forgotten customs, emerging young talents and the small amount of proposals that addressed the public space and were thought around the community. (…)

The groups of collectors, coming in most cases from the United States, were transported to independent spaces of artists, not galleries, but the studio-workshop where they are created and sold. And selling is fine! But the event loses quality when for necessary reasons art is placed in function of the fair, not of the biennial and/or vice versa. We are all aware of the commercial character that characterizes the Havana Biennial. What is the reason for the aforementioned? To the country’s current critical economic situation? Whose fault is it? Of the institutions that organize the event that do not have the necessary infrastructure to support its realization or of the artists who consider it more important to sell than to participate in the Biennial? Who sells more: the artists of the Biennial, those who participate in collateral projects or those who did not apply and still take advantage of the opportunity and participate with their own means with personal and/or collective proposals?

(…) The aim is not to be negative about the most awaited event by Cuban artists in the national context; but to generate critical thoughts around it. To me, the slogan “The construction of the possible” seems a justified paradox in the face of the serious economic, political and social needs that Cuba presents, not just now, but for several years.

While the administrative agencies of the Biennial propose constructing “something” possible, others use the possible to construct a work, a reasoning, an illusion or a disappointment. On the one hand, the political vision of the Biennial, as an instrument to characterize the event and, on the other, the empowerment and struggle of many for their work to be made visible, consumed, oriented, not concerned about defending mottos or slogans and many concerns to be recognized in the midst of a globalized artistic world and a market permeated by inflation. With the above, I am not suggesting that there isn’t good Cuban art. That would undermine the artistic heritage that for many years has been forged. There is art for everyone!

I’m not certain how much longer the Havana Biennial will continue to be carried out; but what I consider necessary is to (re)think the objectives, the organization and the focus of said event. Since 1984, when the first Biennial was held, the foundations were laid to start creating, with the intellectual idea, collective work, success, learning and confrontation, the ability to overcome the limitations and transcend the frivolities that move away from art and that accompany some artistic scenarios of the circuit. The external recognition that characterized so much these beginnings has been transformed into a battle of survival between the artist, the institution, the regulations, the distances, the market and, ultimately, the proposal and the public.

Maylin Pérez Parrado

Maylin Pérez Parrado

(Camagüey, Cuba, 1989). Independent curator and art critic based in the Netherlands, Cuba and Panama. In 2011, she obtained her bachelor's degree in Art History, from the Universidad de Oriente, in Santiago de Cuba. From 2012 to 2015, she curated the Fototeca de Cuba and the Cuban Art Factory (FAC). She has worked as a curator at Arteconsult Gallery, Panama City, and is part of the international Art Consulting Network group, based in Italy. She is currently the director of the Fototeca de Panamá. His professional work is developed within the curatorship, the art market, teaching, research, cultural promotion and the media for the current artistic ecosystem.

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