The theme put forward by the Lam Center for the 6th Havana
Bienal, Individual and Collective Memories, was to "promote
a reflection on the relationship between the individual and memory
as a means to defenpnd historical dimensions. In most instances,
the artists engaged in this reflective process created works which
relied heavily on photographic images (recent and archival) along
with installations consisting of what could be read in this context
as "documentary objects."
It may be significant to note that compared to previous Bienals,
this Bienal included more artists from Peru, Venezuela, Brazil
and Argentina while those representing Cuba were noticeably fewer.
Many Cuban artists not included in the Bienal did manage to present
their works in a number of alternative venues throughout Havana,
such as Tania Brugerra's performance which took place at her apartment/gallery
in old Havana; an exhibition entitled "Realidades Virtuales"
was installed at the Pabellon Cuba, and included works by Abel
Barroso, Elio Rodriguez, Ines Garrido, Lazaro Saavedra, Felix
E. Perez, Jose A. Toirac, Pedro Alvarez and Felix E. Perez, among
others; and at the Fundacion Ludwig de Cuba, both Esterio Segura
and Antonio Eligio Fernandez (Tonel) exhibited works [including
Tonel's Otro Autorretrato Como Intelectual Organico (otro homenaje
a Gramsci) and Segura's Habanos Libres y Yo]; a number of other
artists exhibited at "spaces" in their homes, often
with two or three friends, such as one at the home of Andres Tomas
Montalvan, which included his works along with those of Luis Gomez
and Jorge Luis Pablos. Certain of these alternative exhibitions
were recognized in the program for the Bienal, such as the exhibition
at the Pabellon and the Fundacion Ludwig, while many others were
Alternative spaces have become important arenas for the exhibition of works by young Cuban artists; often these spaces present works which have been censored by the government and therefore not allowed in official state galleries. A few Cuban artist will challenge and test the current line of government censorship by initially installing their work in an official gallery and if the space is then closed by the government (often by the local or municipal authorities) the work is generally moved into an apartment or private alternative space. *
The catalog for the 6th Bienal (underwritten in part by the Association Francaise d'Action Artistique, Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres) grouped the works presented into three categories and three locations: Rostros de la Memoria (faces of memory) at the Castillo del Morro, Recintos Interiores (interior places) at the Fortaleza de la Cabaña and Memorias Collectivas (collective memories) in the Centro Historico of Havana.
Artists represented at the Castillo del Moro included Sutapa
Biswas (India, living in England), Oscar Bony (Argentina), Romuald
Hazoume (Benin), Alexis [KCHO] Leyva (Cuba), Maria Cecilia Piazza
(Peru). The Fortaleza de la Cabana presented installations by
Kuki Benski (Argentina), Pablo Conde (Uruguay), Ignacio Iturria
(Uruguay), Macarena Onate (Chile), Cecilia Paredes (Peru), Ernesto
Pujol (Cuba-New York City), Rene Francisco Rodriguez (Cuba), Lazaro
Saavedra (Cuba), Vivan Sundaran (India), Lihie Talmor (Israel),
Martin Weber (Argentina), and Vida Yovanovich (Cuba-Mexico).
Within the historic district of old Havana numerous spaces of varying size, character and history exhibited works by artists such as Laura Anderson (Mexico), Juan Enrique Bedoya (Peru), Luis F. Benedit (Argentina), David Boxer (Jamaica), Braco Dimitrijevic (Yugoslavia), Alturo Duclos (Chile), Ismael Frigerio (Chile), Carlos Garaicoa (Cuba), Luis Gonzalez Palma (Guatemala), Claudio Goulart (Brazil), Leandro Katz (Argentina), William Kentridge (South Africa), Armando Marino (Cuba), Pepon Osorio (Puerto Rico), Rene Pena (Cuba), Tokihiro Sato (Japan), Jorge Francisco Soto (Uruguay), and Gaston Ugalde (Bolivia). **
The contained interior, unspoken, and often painful and unreconciled aspects of personal histories experienced in particular social, political and cultural contexts was examined through the works of Pujol, Yovanovich and Goulart. While the layered memories of events and people(s) marginalized, misrepresented (and negatively coded), or not included in "official" histories were presented and considered - re-told - through the works of Leandro Katz, Jorge Francisco Soto and William Kentridge: Katz documenting Che in Bolivia, Kentridge exposing the structure of oppression (video), and Soto's examination of the political history of Uruguay.
Works by Cuban artists such as KCHO, Carlos Garaicoa and Lazaro Saavedra exhibited their consistent and unmistakable visual vocabulary and attitude. KCHO's makeshift boats layered one on top of the other on top of glass bottles and inner tubs continue his dialogue on migration, while Zen Garden and Havana Garden, two installations (the last in an outdoor neighborhood setting) by Garaicoa incorporated and re/presented fragments of architecture (and life) within his discourse on loss, reclamation, "urban archeology"and esthetics. Garaicoa comments that he was "prompted to reinstate mundane space as spaces of discourse...to perceive the urban landscape anew and to fill the impressive vaccum between object and eye; revindicating space, raising monuments in oblivion."
The use of video also provided an important element in the works of William Kentridge, Ismael Frigerio, Gaston Ugalde, and others.
The logistics and general layout of the exhibitions this year proved most frustrating as one attempted to locate works by particluar artists. Unlike previous bienals in Havana this year the Fine Arts Museum was not used as the central exhibition and conference area due in part to the fact that it is currently being renovated. The primary meeting area for artists and those attending this Bienal became the Lam Center, an important and active institution, but quite inadequate for the numbers of individuals attending (over 1000 name tags were prepared at the center and distributed before the opening). In many ways this situation opened up old Havana even more than in prior Bienals, since it required a much greater number of smaller sites to be utilized for exhibitions. But at the same time the lack of a large central exhibition venue meant that the meetings, dialogues, and conferences were scattered, and presented in inadequate spaces. As a result the lectures and open discussions very poorly attended (and some did not even take place). This was a disappointment to many who looked forward to the valued and often spirited exchanges which had been the tradition during presentations at the Havana Bienals. [In a conversation with Nelson Herrera Ysla I mentioned my concern about the absence of this vital dimension to the Bienal, and he indicated to me that they would find a more suitable location for lectures and meetings for the next Bienal.]
*As early as 1977 an exhibition titled "Six New Painters" had been denied a space because the work was officially considered to ugly and lacking in maturity. Though these artists, including Jose Bedia, Elso, Jose Manuel Fors, Rodriguez Brey and Torres Llorca, did not immediately reschedule the exhibition, two years later they did open an exhibition titled "Pintura Fresca" in Fors' home. The artists included in this exhibition were now eleven in number, including Flavio Garciandia, Tomas Sanchez and later Leandro Soto. What emerged from this early exhibition was "Volumen I" - next generation of Cuban artists.
A number of artists participating were not included in the catalog, and as is the case for many exhibitions of this nature the works pictured in the catalog were often not the works exhibited.