The Havana Biennale, a 500-Year-Old City Turned into an Open-Air Gallery
For a month, Havana has adopted a different look thanks to the Art Biennale or, perhaps, its inhabitants have managed to see it in a different light, a bit more colorful, rhythmic and joyful in the midst of so many shortages, ups and downs and gloom.
Art also serves that purpose; it can offer us some short-lived joys when contemplating a piece to which we can assign as many meanings as our imagination allows.
Havana became an open-air gallery, and the organizers of the XII edition of the Biennale, the most important visual arts event celebrated in the country, never grew tired of repeating it.
Creators from 52 countries took over public spaces in Havana and gave us back, according to Norma Rodríguez Derivet, director of the Biennale, “the city of metaphors”.
With the theme “the construction of what is possible”, the event grouped 12 large collective projects and more than 200 personal exhibits featured in public and private galleries, as well as open-air spaces and iconic locations, such as the Malecón (the seawall) of a city with almost five centuries of history.
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Biennale: Art on Havana’s Lounge
Natives of Havana call it, with good reason, “the city’s lounge” and it is a must-see place for those who live or are passing through the Cuban capital. Night after night, the Malecón offers its wall to view the sea from the city and, sometimes, the city from the sea.
The waves crash, again and again, against the concrete wall, in a never-ending attempt to go beyond the man-made barrier. It is impossible not to draw a parallel between this fact and the destiny of a country that attempted to be different.
The Malecón (the seawall), with its enormous symbolism, was once again the site selected to showcase the joint project “Behind the Wall”. The idea belongs to curator Juan Delgado and it has been a recurrent project of the Biennale since the 2012 edition.
On this occasion, more than 80 artists from 15 countries participated with video art, performances, installations, paintings and sculptures along several kilometers of the Malecón, from Maceo park to La Punta fortress.
El Malecon: an art wall for the Biennale
Perhaps the most colorful work of “Behind the Wall” was T3C36, by Spanish artist David Magán. Onlookers stopped in front of it constantly and tried observing the city from a different light.
Another unmissable stop was “Heraldo”, a huge unicorn made of polyester resin and fiberglass. In front of this mythological animal, created by artist Gabriel Raúl Cisneros, many were those who tried to caress its huge horn.
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“Monument to the incomplete man”, by Cuban artist Adrián Fernández, also garnered a lot of attention. A six-meter high steel sculpture fashioned after a man but, as its name suggests, incomplete. It falls to the visitor to decipher this piece and use his imagination to add the missing parts.
Havana Streets, a New Cultural Corridor
One of the most peculiar initiatives of the 2019 Biennale was the Cultural Corridor that was established on Linea Street. This is one of the most crowded avenues of the Cuban capital and, surely enough, many were surprised to see traffic interrupted to make way for an urban showcase never before seen in Cuba.
The company Acosta Danza, directed by Carlos Acosta, was one of those that displayed their art in the middle of the avenue. In addition, the children enjoyed the presentation of the group La Colmenita and there were also performances by Teatro El Público and El Ciervo Encantado (the Enchanted Stag).
Beyond the desire of gifting art as part of the Biennale, the Línea Cultural Corridor, which is part of the Espacio (space) project created by Cuban architect Vilma Bartolomé, seeks to revitalize public spaces and institutions located along the avenue. The European Union has decided to finance the project and it will last until 2021, a time frame in which it promises an urban regeneration based on culture.