Islands from here and there

/ 22 June, 2015

Elizabeth Cerejido serves as a cultural manager looking for new edges of problematic concepts such as identity, diaspora and nation, from her research on the art produced in the binomial Miami-Havana. Her presence together with a delegation of artists and specialists from the United States in the Dialogues on Cuban Art, which met at Casa de las Americas, was a pretext to create links between artists and specialists -Cuban or not-residents in both countries; undoubtedly a sign that this process of talks between Cuba and the United States must not only be scheduled in the context of international diplomatic relations, but in all spheres of social and cultural life.


For a long time there was a kind of separation between the Cuban art produced in Cuba and Cuban art produced by the so-called diaspora. How is currently the reception of the art from that supposed diaspora in the United States ?

That question is closely related to what we discussed in these meetings. Cuban art that is currently produced on the island is not understood in the United States as an art of the Diaspora, but as an art produced with codes that match the Cuban reality in a very authentic way, but they also serve a market seeking in Cuban art a kind of standardization; this creation is closely linked to what the market perceives as Cuban art. One of the things that this project aims is to recognize what the breaking factors are in Cuban art, in and out of the Diaspora, and specifically between Miami and Havana.

The art produced by Cuban-American artists in the USA rarely circulates within that narrative of Cuban art in which the American market is interested, and I guess it will be represented in permanent collections of American institutions for the easing policy in bilateral relations between the two countries, but that is a work still to be done. It is necessary to analyze how the art of the diaspora can be understood in Cuban art with a much broader spectrum, as there is a culture that unites us.

Do you think that after the normalization of relations between the two countries the Havana Biennials are going to be more inclusive with projects by Cuban artists living in the United States that have maintained a critical attitude to the Cuban government?

It’s interesting, because when we met with Jorge Fernandez, director of the Biennale, I asked him a question like that and he replied that Cuban artists living outside Cuba had participated in previous Biennials.

I think that, though not in large projects, there has definitely been a representation. The last few years Havana Biennial has exhibited works by Cuban residents in USA such as JOSE PARLA, ERNESTO PUJOL and most recently, in 2008, we saw an exhibition where Jose Bedia´s painting was included within an exhibition curated by Corina Matamoros in the Fine Arts Museum, which also hosted works by Wifredo Lam and Raul Martinez. But the Biennale still lacks a larger representation of Cuban artists living in Miami, trained in that space, which is very different from the rest of the Cuban-American communities that are out of this environment, because there is a strong political burden. I think the policies are going to be gradually changed by the younger generation and artists.

What is the greatest conflict of contemporary Cuban art in your view?

EC: There is a generation of artists producing works that respond directly to the demands of a market with a very rigid perception of what Cuban art is; AND THAT FEEDS THE APPEARANCE OF EXCEPTIONALISM and exoticism in Cuban art. ALTHOUGH there are MANY YOUNG ARTISTS AND OLDER GENERATIONS THAT CREATE works of a very strong conceptual rigor many still REPEAT THE CODES that ensure them an easy entry to that market responding to the interests of many curators abroad. In my opinion this was a crisis that I have noticed on this trip. There are few artists with innovative projects or with new proposals within their own discourse.

The representations remain the same and are repeated, and I think that happens because the works are still sold. Now if we talk about a Cuban American art or Cuban artists abroad, they face other issues like holding their career and survive. THE CHALLENGES ARE OTHERS. There are some who seek more profitable solutions like being teachers in universities or academies that are related in some way to artistic practice. There ARE ALSO ARTISTS such as Glexis Novoa, who lives in Miami but who has returned to work in CUBA and has been able to rethink other challenges in his speech, so it is refreshing.

REGARDING CUBAN AMERICAN ARTISTS, the MARKET REALITY IS ANOTHER. For example, Leyden Rodriguez Casanova has a very rigorous discourse, which responds to his biculturalism and his reality, which is to live and produce works in the United States; something that is very difficult because there is no state, nor a vertical infrastructure to support the artists, nor is there a market functioning as here, as there is no buses of tourists parked outside the studios waiting to buy works, because he is a Cuban artist placed in an exotic environment. If you remove this part of the equation, you will find the challenges of any artist in the world.

Do you think that today the Biennial of Havana or the Cuban art in general, from the economic, social and political changes taking place in the nation, can become spaces for dialogue and social participation?

I WANT TO CLARIFY THAT I HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO SEE MANY projects RELATED TO THE BIENNIAL, but according to what was discussed at these meetings and what I have seen, I think the role of the Biennial must be rethought and the way its social approach has been developed since its inception. I do not want to talk about utopian projects because I think the term is empty and very used, but I think these discussions that have taken place in Casa de las Americas have been favorable and beneficial because they highlighted how the Biennial has increasingly strayed from its PIONEER function OR its specific focus as a social platform where ARTISTS RESPOND TO ISSUES AND REALITIES OF social, economic, political and aesthetic RELEVANCE, both of the local and global ENVIRONMENT. But this also can be a time of reflection for the BIENNIAL INSTITUTION ON THE ROLE to be PLAYED IN THE FUTURE AS THE CUBAN SOCIETY is changing.

Yesterday I commented that Cuba (MY COMMENT WAS NOT ON THE ISLAND BUT ON MIAMI) is not only perceived as a place of passage, but as a place of knowledge, dissemination and development of art from the international context. What do you think it is necessary on the part of artists and institutions to promote Cuban art?

It is needed a more critical view, AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE TERM CUBAN ART PROBLEMATIZING THE THEME OF CUBAN ART BEYOND bifurcation between what is produced outside and inside, BUT RECOGNIZING AT A TIME THE UNIQUE FEATURES OF BOTH SPACES – and here I refer specifically to the binomial MIAMI / HAVANA. AS TO THE Biennial, what I observed is a necessity in questioning and rethinking its goals; that is, to determine whether it will be a trading platform for Cuban artists to have greater visibility with economic rewards, or if it is a platform that focuses on a critical discourse.


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