The thirteenth edition of the Havana Biennial, the most important visual arts happening on the island, will be held from April 12 to May 12, with the title La construcción de lo posible (The Construction of the Possible).
Founded in 1984 with the aim of researching, theorizing, and positioning the arts of the so-called Global South —an update on the term Third World— the Biennial not only meant an opening for Cuban art, but also an alternative and legitimizing space for the artistic practices of the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. In recent years it has opened to other regions of the world, and has become an international benchmark.
At its start the Biennial had an open call and was a contest; starting with its third iteration, the prizes and country divisions were eliminated and the artistic selection was made based on curatorial axes related to problems of the Global South, such as: the coexistence of the traditional and the contemporary; globalization; art and its relationship to life; individuals and their memories; migration; indigenous peoples’ knowledge systems; and social imaginaries.
The thirteenth edition has challenged itself to enhance the transformational nature of art. In the face of a contemporary climate defined by armed conflicts, migration, violence, economic crises, and environmental deterioration, seeking solutions from different perspectives becomes a priority. So the primary focus of this Biennial is, from a base of artistic production, stimulating new models of coexistence, forms of community living, and networks of solidarity.
With each Biennial, Havana becomes a great cultural corridor, allowing for interaction between artists, curators, theorists, managers, and the public. Furthermore, it extends its reach beyond the visual arts, also promoting a close dialogue with music, dance, and literature. This year, its culmination will be a tribute to the “Wonder City” of Havana on the 500th anniversary of its founding.
The Biennial will convene around 200 artists from more than 50 countries, approximately 70 of whom are Cuban artists, including National Visual Arts Award winners Manuel Mendive, Roberto Fabelo, José Villa Soberón, René Francisco, Eduardo Ponjuán, Pedro de Oraá, José Manuel Fors, José Ángel Toirac, and Pedro Pablo Oliva. Exhibitions will be hosted at the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, the National Council of Visual Arts, the Office of the City Historian, Pabellón Cuba, the National Museum of Fine Arts, the University of the Arts (Instituto Superior de Arte), the José Martí National Library and the Villa Manuela Gallery at the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), as well as in public spaces throughout the capital.
One of the novelties of this Biennial will be its expansion to other provinces: in Pinar del Río, the Farmacia project, directed by Juan Carlos Rodríguez; in Matanzas, Ríos intermitentes by María Magdalena Campos; in Cienfuegos, the collective exhibition Mar adentro; and, in Camagüey, the International Video Art Festival.
In Havana, the event’s artistic map transcends institutional sites, flooding the entire city with art. Thanks to the third edition of Detrás del muro (Behind the Wall), six kilometers of the Malecón seawall will become a huge gallery. With more than 70 invited artists, passers-by can enjoy the multisensory experience in which all kinds of art are mixed with the sea breeze, tropical heat, and urban soundscape.
The Línea Street Cultural Corridor, under the direction of architect Vilma Bartolomé, is one of the most ambitious ideas: to revitalize the popular artery in the El Vedado neighborhood, beginning from the rescue of historical-cultural heritage, along with graphic interventions in the streets and buildings and updates to street fixtures.
Another Biennial offering is the Taller Chullima, coordinated by Cuban artist Wilfredo Prieto. His studio, an old shipyard on the banks of the Almendares River, will be a meeting point for creators from Mexico, Brazil, Austria, and Spain.
On this occasion the theoretical program —one of the most important aspects of the Biennial— has been organized by the Department of Art History at the University of Havana. The conferences, conversations, and exchanges with Cuban and foreign academics, essayists, and curators in previous biennials have enabled critical thinking about contemporary artistic practices, especially those carried out in the Global South and its diaspora.
This 2019 Biennial promotes art as a living event, where creation and life merge. The broadening of the event to parks, streets, and neighborhoods makes it possible to infuse an aesthetic experience into everyday life. It also provides a special opportunity to enjoy the unique vistas of 1950s-era cars and the baroque, art deco, and eclectic buildings that coexist with contemporary art.
Over its 35 years the Biennial has sought to create alternative modes for the circulation and consumption of art, which go beyond white gallery spaces and the mainstream market. It has been set up as a space for dialogue and reflections for both insiders and outsiders, a bridge between artists, critics, and academics from multiple geographies. Undoubtedly, it is a kind of creative laboratory for implementing new cartographies and alternatives for the construction of the possible.