A group of 11 of us arrived in Havana on May 22 for a 6-day tour built around the 12th Havana Biennial. This extensive exhibition of largely Cuban and Third World art fills the city—its forts, former military installations, galleries, libraries, historic buildings and streets. Even in 6 full days, it was impossible to see everything.
The group included AAC board member Chip Finke IV and Rebecca Seeman, retired AAC Professor and myself, representing the Art Academy. We saw gallery after gallery of paintings, sculpture, prints and drawings. We saw numerous performances in galleries and streets, including those of Glenda Leon, Michaelangelo Pistoletto and Kcho. We saw neighborhood art projects and many sculptural installations along the famous Malecon. At Kcho’s neighborhood (where he grew up) art venue, we followed costumed performers on stilts around the area to a series of performances and exhibits, while a large boat-shaped kettle simmered with a Cuban stew to be shared later by all.
The art was full of color, politics, spirituality, Afro-Cuban religion, popular culture and everywhere passion. We found more art when we visited ISA (Instituto Superior des Artes), Cuba’s national school of the arts. Walking around the campus—which is a former country club for the elite—we saw the student and faculty studios and attended a striking performance. Also pervasive were the rhythms of Cuban music, which we encountered everywhere we went.
American artists and art lovers too infrequently have the opportunity to encounter art from beyond Europe. In Havana, that opportunity comes in a direct and visceral way, not disconnected from the culture out of which it grew and for contributing to a global perspective. As a result, this trip was a consciousness-expanding experience that supports a wider worldview. Those of who are educators will bring a greater knowledge of artists and their cultures to the classroom. And, of course, we made the trip just and the US and Cuba are entering an era of more open relationships.