CUBA AT VENICE BIENNALE
A TRUE EXPLOSION OF ARTISTS
2017 is an important year for Cuban Art at the Venice Biennale. Sixty-five years have elapsed since Cuba first took part in this prestigious International Exhibition, which represents an open window on contemporary art since 1895, gathering together artists from different nations and generations. It is a great chance to exhibit and share in an atmosphere of humanity and universal brotherhood devoid of prejudices, boundaries or ideological barriers. This exhibition, among the oldest in the world, set the first stone—before there used to be the Salons in different cities of Europe—, highlighted the way towards a new model of promotion and international circulation of art, and others followed it. Many events tried to overturn it, or create an alternative to the model established in Venice, like the Havana Biennial, which has taken place since 1984.
The title of the 57th edition is Viva Arte Viva, there are 86 national participations and 120 individual artists. This year Cuba presents Time of Intuition and a large delegation, 14 artists are present, celebrating the anniversary of the first participation: it was in 1952 when Cuba presented 14 artists, the very avant-garde at that time composed of great exponents of various orientations and lines.
The selection of this year, coordinated by the curator José Manuel Noceda and led by Jorge Fernández Torres, commissioner of the exhibition and director of the National Museum of Fine
Arts of Cuba, is composed largely of young artists, who already enjoy a considerable recognition worldwide. “It has been very important for Cuban art to have this pavilion and gather artists so very different one from the other, considering their artistic pursuit, their poetic and the nature of their creative process.
It is also necessary to recognize the effort made by the Cuban
State to support such a wide ranging project.” Explained the commissioner on the opening day, on May 12th 2017.
Certainly Cuba was able to speak of itself in Venice this year, by showing an exhibition that only in few weeks set a record as regards visitors. The Cuban pavilion is set in the ancient and prestigious Loredan Palace, headquarters of the Veneto Institute of Sciences, Arts and Literature since 1838, located in the very central area of the Italian city, just a few steps away from the San Marco Square. Covering both of the two floors of the building, the exhibition is conceived to start at the outdoor square with Esterio Segura’s work, displayed inside rooms and lounges with spectacular wooden pavements, furniture and ceiling, in typical Venetian style.
The impact of Cuban art in Venice is undoubtedly positive, as Férnandez added. “You can really perceive the reaction of the public in the pavilion, people are very satisfied and happy. I think the most important thing is that is it possible to realize a three times bigger pavilion. It is clear that Cuban art is still very vital, that artists put a lot of intensity into their works.” The artists were visibly enthusiastic about taking part in this prestigious event, which they have dreamed about throughout their career, as one of the biggest goals to accomplish and proud to represent their country. “For them this is gorgeous: it is visibility and promotion; a recognition of the work they have done. It is also a distinction for the artistic training in Cuba, the schools of art and the teaching, which is fundamental. So evidently Cuban institutions do their best effort to incorporate artists and to notice them when they are very young”, concluded the commissioner.
Surely it is a very difficult task having to choose, among so many great artists, which ones to include in the exhibition, as the curator José Manuel Noceda declared. “It is extremely difficult, it is a very pleasant headache, having to do a selection of this delicacy in a country like ours. We have an incredible promotion, various generations of artists working simultaneously on and off the island: very valuable creators going, coming back and sharing stays, territories and experiences with authors from all over the world.”
The artists selected for the 57th edition are Abel Barroso,
Iván Capote, J. Roberto Diago, Roberto Fabelo, José Manuel
Fors, Aimée García, Reynier Leyva Novo, René Peña, Wilfredo Prieto, Mabel Poblet, Carlos Martiel, Meira Marrero & José Ángel Toirac, José E. Yaque and Esterio Segura. Behind the individual interpretations of the title, Tiempo de la intuición (Time of Intuition), you can have a glimpse of the excellent curatorial work in the connection between them all, considering that they are very different, since each creator has its own language and a way of living reality. In fact the works in the pavilion absorb the spectator in a tour of perceptions, composed of each artist’s own reading of time in everyday life.
Curator José Manuel Noceda found inspiration in the concept of time as expressed by the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier. He said that in the Caribbean and in Cuba three time realities coexist simultaneously: the past, or time of memory, the present, time of intuition or vision, and the future, or time of waiting. Present is the chosen one, the Time of Intuition...
Noceda explained how his straightforward work took into account some of the ideas of the general curator of the Biennale, Christine Macel. “In her theoretical document she refers to the circumstances that our world is undergoing, all the episodes of crisis and conflict affecting our everyday life. She speaks about the need to recover the role of art and of the artist within society, about the urgency to rescue humanism, which has been lost throughout all these decades.” Contextualizing the project on Cuban reality and keeping in mind Macel’s curatorial ideas, Noceda found inspiration in the concept of time as expressed by the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier (1904-1980), initiator of the Latin American concept of magical realism. Carpentier said that in the Caribbean and in Cuba three time realities coexist simultaneously: the past, or time of memory, the present, time of intuition or vision, and the future, or time of waiting. Present is the chosen one, the Time of Intuition, where the artists can contribute with their own interpretation of the contemporary world. “Considering that the Biennal speaks about the present and taking into account the state of art in Cuba, I think I could not find a better metaphor to try a modest approach to some of the development lines of Cuban art nowadays”, Noceda added. The 14 interpreters of the Caribbean island daily life, through intimate or satirical routes, with performances, photos or installations, deal with topics ranging from the de-construction of the past and history, to chronicle today; ranging from social, racial and gender issues, to themes of faith and spirituality. They are peculiar and independent authors, who propose different visions of the issues of their world in which the context, and the commitment to it, are the keys to reconsider reality.
The energy of this pavilion lies in the diversity of media, structure and poetic: there are photographs, objects, installations, videos. In addition, the presence of Carlos Martiel at the inauguration, performing the extraordinarily intense Mediterráneo, has been fabulous…
In Dyslexia, by Ivan Capote, there are both inevitability in thinking back about the past and inability to act in synchrony with the world; Cuban style cyber lounge, by Abel Barroso, is about problems concerning connection which Cubans have to face every day. In Ave María, by José Ángel Toirac & Meira Marrero, is presented the need of perceiving a divine who might respond to the struggles of a country, composed of migrants and immigrants, constitutionally multiethnic and yet where racist ideas still survive, as it is conveyed in the wonderful photos White House and My White Hands of Shame, by René Peña. In Scale of Values Mabel Poblet analyzes Cuban newspapers, all similar and on grayscale, as she explained. “In Cuba, all the media have a single editorial criterion and all the newspapers publish the same news, but at the same time they share human thoughts and, especially, essential Cuban values.” Values which, for example, we can find in the theme, ever sounding both in memory and Latin veins, of La Bayamesa, performed by Reynier Leyva Novo in The Invisible Patriot. In Rewind Aimée García alludes to the eternal do and undo cycle, which new generations necessarily have to undergo, learning from their own history and sometimes referring to the future. In this manner, the young artist Mabel Poblet explained what time means for her: “Time in Cuba has always had another pace, different from that of the rest of the world, in some fields it is a little slower, in some others a little faster. Reflecting on art, Cuba has always been far ahead, in our way of perceiving the world through art, which is different from the perception of art in Europe or in the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. We have lived isolated from globalization, but at the same time it has helped us to be better, to reinvent ourselves every day. Time plays in negative and positive, it is very random, depending on where you look at it and how you focus on it.”
The energy of this pavilion lies in the diversity of media, structure and poetic: there are photographs, objects, installations, videos. In addition, the presence of Carlos Martiel at the inauguration, performing the extraordinarily intense Mediterráneo, has been fabulous: he stands on his knees blocked in a glass and metal case which little by little is filled with cold water as an hourglass. He sends a fierce and lacerating criticism to Europe and its inability to provide the necessary assistance to African migrants who die in the sea every day. “Symbolically it is like the responsibility of the spectators attending the performance; they could have done something somehow, remove the case, but nobody did anything. People stood there looking and doing nothing, nothing happened”, Carlos commented.
Therefore, in this Time of Intuition, the sense of present is fundamental to understand what has happened in the past and perhaps to refer to the future, to Carpentier’s “time of waiting”. The way to express it necessarily comes from those who can best plumb contemporary world problems, grasp them innerly and bring them back to light in a new shape: the artists. And Cuba has a tradition of visual arts, which constantly guarantees the entrance, in the field of production and circulation of works, of a relevant number of young artists: it is like a great reservoir, maintained through academic spaces and teaching, that favors this true explosion of artists.
Mediterráneo, 2017 Structure / 98 x 36 inches Performance
No rearview mirror, 2008-2016 Object
REINIER LEYVA NOVO El deseo de morir por otros, 2012 Object / Installation
JOSÉ EDUARDO YAQUE
Tumba abierta, 2009-2017
Site specific installation
4000 bottles with distilled water containing roots, flowers, barks, fruits, leaves, vines, branches and stems of Cuba and Tuscany