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Curatorial Practices
Interview with Cristina Vives, Curator, Havana, Cuba
by Mercedes Lizcano

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LA: What can you tell us about the majority of these works being acquired by American collectors?

CV: The greater part of American collectors is extremely interested in Cuban art. To understand this, one must understand that the USA and Cuba, as peoples, are very close, and have been very united since the beginning of the 20th century. For cultural reasons, both countries have been linked and possess many elements of dialogue, even though they have been separated for political reasons. So finally, when these doors of communication open, both parties are avid for exchange.
For me it is a completely cultural phenomenon, very logical and, in this sense, it appears to me normal. American society is used to having no restrictions of any type; by contrast, for quite a long time, their right to know Cuba has been hindered. Even so, the two have always known of the existence of one another and, as I said before, when one opens a door, the exchange begins.

LA: The Museo de Bellas Artes includes a work representative of the style of Cuban artist Belkis Ayon. You knew her personally, not only as curator but also as her friend. What do you think of her work?

CV: Belkis was a great artist, she had a short career of 10 years, during which she was very proliferous and very stable. She only engaged in one form of expression — engraving — and worked with only one technique — collography — which she looked for within Abakua mythology and culture. Belkis Ayon based herself on the more social part of the Abakua culture, given that Belkis was not religious. Within such a limited segment of only one expression, a subject and a technique left a magnificent work.
I had the enormous pleasure of being her friend and partner since she was young, and at the end we saw one another daily. My work consisted of helping her to promote her work.

LA: Cristina, to conclude, what do you think the next Havana Biennial will show us?

CV: Let me tell you what I always say, the Havana Biennial is not an exhibition in itself, but the atmosphere and especially the exchange which occurs around it. The Havana Biennial differs from many other biennials where everything is concentrated on an analysis of what has been shown and the resulting dialogue. The possibility of visiting the artistsí­ studios is something unique in Havana, and makes it a popular event to the extent that the spirit of the Biennial circulates at all levels outside the brick structures.
In the last edition of the Biennial, the majority agreed that the most interesting of all were the works representative of Cuban art. I think that is a problem, because a biennial is an international event and one has to achieve representation at both international and national level. For this, much organization has to be done, and that is where I do not know to what extent the biennial, as an institution, is able to do so. We need ideas and money. And when I refer to ideas, I mean that one needs a specific idea as to what is happening, and have seen it with oneí­s own eyes. This gives you a certain direction as to what works to select for showing in a biennial.
As regards expectations, I hope that in the next Biennial the same interest is maintained as in the previous Biennial, which was exceptional from the point of view of the multitude that were attracted and the interest to which it gave rise. At the same time, I would like the institutions to try to strengthen themselves to win a space that they had lost, together with the gallery system, in order that this sale of art of which we have spoken, takes place within the galleries of Cuba. The Biennial has an interesting life ahead.

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