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Report from VIII Havana Biennial

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Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wilfredo Lam,
Nov 01, 2003 - Dec 15, 2003
La Habana Vieja, Cuba

Report from VIII Havana Biennial


The organizers reported that the VIII Biennial of Contemporary Art was inaugurated in Havana on November 1 of 2003, despite the withdrawal of financing from various European foundations. Rafael Acosta, director of the Plastic Arts Council, stated at the Plaza Vieja of the city’s historical center that coming to Havana became an act of solidarity with Cuba, which applies itself today to furthering the art of the countries of the South.

Armed with the slogan "Art with life", and sponsored by the Wilfredo Lam Contemporary Art Center as well as the National Council for the Plastic Arts, this biennial was attended by 150 artists from 50 different countries, with government financing of only $156,000. The Dutch foundations Prince Klaus and Hivos announced their withdrawal from sponsorship of the Biennial, followed by the French Association for Plastic Action (AFAA from the initials in French), amounting to nearly $200,000, just weeks before the opening.

According to Cuban press sources, Prince Klaus withdrew its support from the Biennial due to "the difficult situation through which artists and intellectuals are currently passing in Cuba"; HIVOS, for its part, based its withdrawal on the fact that "the present purpose of the Biennial lacks elements in relation with a criterion of our cultural policies", stating that the Biennial project lacked "elements of interaction and deep reflection to facilitate an environment of dynamic and pluralist cultural interaction and exchange". The AFFA was more neutral and mentioned the supposed beaucratic differences encountered in placing the funds to benefit African artists. Critics point to the decision of artists Alexander Apóstol of Venezuela and Priscila Monge of Costa Rica who pulled out of the Biennial due to censorship as well as to the organisation's affiliation with the Cuban government and that ultimately it has not distanced itself from the policy of censorship.

Giving voice to official irritation, Rafael Acosta declared that "some supposed patrons and promoters of art and culture gave in to the strong anti-Cuban campaigns directed by the European Union", alluding in this way to the diplomatic sanctions, including those on the cultural level, applied last June 5 by the European Union in protest against the sentences given to 75 dissidents and the shooting of three presumed kidnappers of a passenger boat. According to Acosta, "The withdrawal of outside financing notably affected the presence of countries from the Asian region and, to a lesser extent, other nations considered in the initial list". Hilda Marí­a Rodrí­guez, director of the Biennial, said that the Biennial continues to be a space for encounters which promotes art as an essential and immediate factor in projects for living. Overall the inaugurations went on without a hitch, nevertheless there was a noticeable lack of organizational precision during some events--rooms were not organized according to their normal timetable (usually from 10:00AM to 5:00PM), resulting in a decrease in public attendance while other events suffered from sudden schedule changes.

This year saw a majority of invited artists coming from Latin America, particularly from South America, this is possibly due to a withdrawal of some invited European artists. While it is true that the strength of this fair has historically been drawn from Latin America and other under-represented nations, the increasing presence of these countries in other international art events makes their attendance here seem not as unique. It will be interesting to see how the fair advances and what direction it takes in the coming years.


One of the distinctive signs of this edition is the invitation of the RAIN Group, formed by the curators, architects, artists and critics Siggi Hofer, Susi Jirkuff, Lisa Schmidt-Colinet, Alex Schmoeger, Eugenio Valdés Figueroa and Florian Zeyfang. Their project in the Cuban Pa

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