Havana becomes an open air gallery during XII Havana Biennial

Posted: 28-May-15 16:57

The Cuban capital is once again celebrating the Havana Biennial (Bienal de la Habana), now in its twelfth edition and dressing the city in an array of vibrant colours with open-air galleries, workshops, performances and more. The most eye-catching of events in this year's edition is the series of "living" artworks being displayed all along the Malecon seawall as part of the Behind the Wall art project; featuring original pieces from hundreds of artists form all over the world.

Havana becomes an open air gallery during XII Havana Biennial

The XII Havana Biennial is currently being celebrated in full pomp and flair. Art has taken over the city streets as numerous art pieces from hundreds of national and international artists now adorn the most trodden corners and iconic places of interest, such as the ever-popular Malecon seawall and El Morro Cabana fortress.

Entitled “Between the Idea and the Experience” the 2015 Bienal de la Habana is more evocative, more awe-inspiring, much bigger and brighter than ever.

This year in its second edition, the Behind the Wall project taking place alongside the Malecon is twice as big as it was two years ago - its art installations more ambitious, more attention-drawing and more interactive than ever.

Behind the Wall

Two of its main features, attracting the highest number of visitors and commanding the most attention are the artificial beach and the city’s first ever artificial ice rink, an idea developed and put in place by Irish-American artist, Duke Riley. The interactive work of art is called La Esquina Fria (The Cold Corner) and is open to the public, providing visitors with a total of 250 vintage skates and giving many Cubans the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of experiencing skating during 20-minute sessions.

Another popular interactive exhibit is Rachel Valdes’ Cubo Azul, a blue see-through glass installation that allows spectators to get inside the structure and perceive the reality of the Malecon from another perspective, almost as if immersed in it.

Famous national artists such as Roberto Fabelo and Manuel Mendive also contribute with a few striking pieces. Whilst Mendive exhibits a piece called Mi Energía y Yo (My energy and me), Roberto Fabelo’s Delicatessen; a sculpture in the shape of a giant pot with hundreds of forks stuck in it, is one of the two pieces he’s put on show for this biennial’s edition. The second he created as part of the group Stainless, in conjunction with Cuban artists Jose Capaz and Alejandro Piñeiro. The trio created a piece of gigantic proportions called Occidente con esteroides (The West on steroids) which consists of around 30 cakes that are slowly melting whilst being devoured by dozens of tongue that come out from the cakes itself.

Speaking to local newspaper Granma, Alejandro Piñeiro explained:

"[This piece] could possibly be the consummation of a series of different pieces we had been developing, because we started making some cakes in 2010, then we did a few tongues - with all that sexual connotation and maybe because of the hot air and gossip it generated; this piece connects all the work of the last four years in the Sweet Constructions series."

Further commenting about the artwork’s location on the Malecon, Piñeiro added:

"It’s a great opportunity to work in the Malecon, possibly Havana’s largest public space, the most trodden, where a lot of people come to sit at night…It was very exciting yesterday when we were installing it, to see how people approached us to ask questions while children wanted to eat the resin, very funny."

When asked how he measure the level of success his piece had among the public he replied;

"I’m measuring whether people get along with this piece. [So far] they like it, they’re consuming it, just as the piece consumes itself.

(…) It’s a highly visual piece, very colourful and maybe us Cubans are adapted to this kind of visualisation because all our lives we’ve been eating this kind of cake."

Other highly visual exhibits because of their size or eye-catching shape include Primavera, a huge spring-evoking bust of a woman with butterflies on her head, by Rafael San Juan and Suite Emotion, a big thumb’s up icon reminiscent of Facebook’s Like button, by Alexander Guerra.

Some pieces express the current political changes the island is going through, such as the softening of relations between Cuba and the United States, such as a structure made of clubs painted with the colours of the U.S. flag.

U.S. artist David Opdyke, who visits Cuba for the first time and who contributed to the XII Havana Biennial with a piece called “Secondary Growth Line Extension”, said of the event and recent changes:

“The moment between the two countries is fascinating, very special”.

Opdyke’s sculpture consisted an old broken telephone post from which a tree is born, which he explains represents the link between nature and the human being.

Popular among children, a piece by Liumidla Lopez entitled El parto de la libertad (The birth of freedom) is done in the shape of a slide overlooking sea.

Other art exhibits dot the city’s parks, squares and urban spaces as well as dedicated spaces such as the Cuba Pavilion (Pabellon Cuba), the Wilfredo Lam Centre of Contemporary Art, the Centre for the Development of Visual Arts and the photo library, Fototeca de Cuba.


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