Universes in Universe / Caravan / 8th Havana Biennial
8th Havana Biennial, 2003. Report by Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art
This year it is especially difficult to see the Havana Biennial solely as an art event, completely neutral, without the context of the conditions in Cuba. Both its preparation and how it is perceived internationally have been seriously affected by the increasing gravity of the political situation.
The reports circulating in the months before the 8th Havana Biennial were primarily negative: the harsh action taken by the Cuban government against members of the opposition, its escalating confrontation course toward the European Union , the nullification of sponsoring agreements by European foundations  and then the censorship of texts on works by two artists, who after which canceled their participation.
According to official announcements, this biennial was saved because the Cuban government stepped in with 156,000 US Dollars from its own funds, supposedly the entire budget. But even in Cuba, this would not have come close to being enough for an international event such as this. The greatest share – as with previous biennials – once again had to be furnished by the artists themselves. They had to cover costs for the production of their works, transportation, airfare, accommodations, etc. Moreover, the catalog was paid for by a European institution.
Though the international art scene did not appear in such great number this year, the state’s input may have nevertheless reaped a good return. Foreigners who came solely for the biennial (1,500 to 2,000 according to our estimates, far more than half of which from the USA) dropped a tidy sum in Cuba for hotels, meals, etc. Added to this is the Cuban art which was once again sold en masse in the city’s galleries and studios, and for impressive prices.
Be that as it may, the 8th Havana Biennial was an important international art event. With our tour (which, by the way, we once again financed ourselves), using selected works, we aim to convey an impression of the exhibitions to everyone who either could not or did not want to travel there, but are nonetheless interested.
One asks oneself, though, how things are to continue with the Havana Biennial. Though there was a roundtable discussion at the forum regarding biennials in general, this aspect was not brought up. Art from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean can now be found at many international art events, so that this focus alone – commendable as it was in the beginning – is no longer a sufficient concept. Even the opening up beyond such a geographic framework failed to bring this year’s biennial any noticeable artistic gain. More curatorial stringency or a more sustainable idea will be necessary for the future. But this year more than ever, we had the impression that for the Biennial - like the people of Cuba itself - it’s above all about survival...
Pat Binder and Gerhard Haupt
Editors of Universes in Universe
1) After 75 members of the opposition were sentenced to
long prison terms (up to 28 years) and 3 ferry hijackers were sentenced
to immediate execution in April, the European Union
sent a memorandum to the Cuban government on 5 June, in which it expressed
itself as being "deeply worried" about the violations of human
rights and demanded the release of the political prisoners. In addition,
the EU decided on four points (see text: europa.eu.int/abc/doc/off/bull/en/200306/p106025.htm).
Fidel Castro was so angered over this that he repeatedly and fiercely attacked the European Union in the period following, for instance in his speech on 26 July 2003 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the storming of the Monacada barracks (see text: www.cubaminrex.cu/Archivo/Presidente/2003/FC_260703.htm).
2) The Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development (www.princeclausfund.nl) and
HIVOS (Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries - www.hivos.nl),
both from the Netherlands, as well as the AFAA (Association Française
d'Action Artistique - www.afaa.asso.fr). The Prince Claus Fund contributed 90,000 US Dollars
to the previous biennial, which was also supported by HIVOS. According
to a statement by the organizers, the two foundations together were responsible
for 70% of external support for the 7th Havana Biennial.
See the explanation by the Prince Claus Fund regarding the refusal of support for the 8th Biennial: www.princeclausfund.nl/source_eng/news/index_2003_cuba.html.
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