Incentives for future meetings
For several decades the Cuban engraving has competed in the contemporary visual arts at the same level of the rest of the manifestations. The existing tradition in the country, rooted in the lithographic production for the tobacco industry; the existence of several creation workshops; and its inclusion in art education, have favoured this circumstance.
Multiple events and exhibitions have also helped to maintain the interest in an art form that is constantly facing the dilemma of being despised by the craftsmanship linked to its manufacture, by its multiple original condition, because it is so hard to compete in the market as it is not always sufficiently understood, and by its trade union nature.
One of the events which since the 1980s has insisted looking back to graphic production and has chosen to reward the manifestation is the National Engraving Meeting. Irregular in frequency and always designed differently, in November 2013, after not being held since 2007, the meeting held its eighth edition. Its catalogue was presented almost a year after the event, on Thursday October 23, at Callejón del Chorro Workshop.
The publication, which was in charge of Arte Cubano Ediciones Publishing House, collected a list of fifty finalist artists exhibited at the Centre for Development of Visual Arts, kept the graphic identity of the last meetings and referred to the ten side event samples.
While it is a necessary and well received memory, undoubtedly a result of the perseverance of those involved, the catalog highlights the main symptoms that the event denoted: First, it confirms the need to keep the meeting, because like it or not, there is a union edge inherent to engraving, and that is probably the best time to meet in terms of exposure, competition, learning and reflective workshops; secondly, that the convening and organizing must be more organically and with fresh insight and aware of what is intended with the event and what the event demands; and third, that the engraving has notably lost the vanguard role it had in the 1990s, that creators are only very specific with a more experimental intention and what is marked as the common denominator is the obsession of the engravers by technique and a figurative and narrative strength that is redundant.
Although most of the meetings to boost the manifestation such as La Joven Estampa Award, in Casa de las Américas, and La Huella Multiple exhibitions have ceased by different causes, there are many graphic artists in Cuba, creation workshops are increasingly open their doors to this art across the country, there is a notable presence of engravers in various personal and collective exhibitions, the Estate Belkis Ayon makes an interesting work in the promotion of this manifestation among young people, its teaching remains in art schools in the country and we are aware of the challenges the marketing proposes to engraving.
However, this latest edition of the meeting made emphasis clearly on the need for aesthetic renewal, especially conceptual, both in creation and management modes of this art in Cuba.
Octavio Irving, engraver, current Director of the Experimental Graphic Workshop in Havana, President of UNEAC Engraving Section, and one of the main promoters in the resumption of these meetings, summarized the matter as follows:
I believe that the celebration of the 8th National Engraving Meeting was an important point to stop on that result and try to look ahead to a much broader, more diverse event, a little more open to the dynamics of contemporary art to allow artists that work from the graphic codes to insert in the contemporary art scene. I believe that engraving, and other expressions, such as ceramics, lacks a practice in which it is generated a vicious circle in which artists are let us say at a level of cultural, visual expression or event in the environment of their own guild. So I think it’s time for the engraving, and even the look at it by the institutions and the artists themselves, to move towards that perspective in which contemporary art makes use of many elements and reins and the terms in which genres are enclosed to become blurred. This does not mean losing the essence and traditions, but that these fundamental and foundational elements of certain artistic practices depend on what art demands today as a cultural phenomenon.