I think that, especially for those of us who weren't at the ARCO 97 (art fair in February in Madrid, this year focusing on Latin America), it was important and useful to visit the 6th Biennial. One had the opportunity to see works by the artists who had also received the attention of the European audience.
The theme chosen by the team of curators from the Centro Wifredo Lam fit perfectly with the processes currently in play in Cuba. The reflection upon the individual and his/her memory has a double meaning: it is being asked in the end, who we are and what we are actually able to remember. The inclusion of famous artists, shown together with not so well-known, yet just as capable to deal with the newest technology and discourses, sheds new light on some dominating criteria in relation to rank and quality. It shows that these criteria are often determined by commercial powers or by the opinions of those in the so-called cultural elite.
Although we know that the selection of the artists is based on the decisions of the curators, it seemed more open and democratic. They've even distanced themselves from the idea that »only Third World artists« may be included, inviting for example an artist like Christian Boltanski, among others from the First World.
In relation to the quality of the selection, there were a few unnecessary imbalances. However, I think that it had to do with emphasizing the »democratic« aspect of the selection. Lastly, we are aware that such events have their political side as well as their artistic. The Biennial has attained an important meaning, and must pay for that.
For me, it was a big surprise to meet artists from Aruba. We Venezuelans can see the island from our shores, but are nevertheless hardly familiar with their art. This gave me the occasion to once again think about the situation in the countries of Latin America, which »turn their backs on each other, looking only toward the North and the West«.
The development of Cuban artists is awesome. They master the discourse, the technology, and how one manages to circulate one's work internationally. This is something that one doesn't see nearly as much in other Latin American countries. When an artist fails to get support from one gallery, his/her work appears nowhere.
Every moment, the event's organizers made it clear how difficult it is to present a Biennial. I think that was unnecessary. We realize this, and admire them for their work. They impressed us as well with an attractively designed catalog (the selected typeface does, however, make the text difficult to read), in which one can see the support from other countries and their profits made from experience. It was pleasant to wander through Old-Havana and to admire the architectural restoration. In the end, it was two tours in one: one touristic and one artistic.
Zuleiva Vivas: Curator and researcher born in Caracas, Venezuela. Has been in charge of the Education - Department of the National Gallery of Caracas. Representative for Venezuela in international conferences and events, such as Hall K-18, University of Kassel at the 8th Documenta and recently at the 6th Biennial of Havana. Published essays in catalogs of Latin American art and articles in magazines and newspapers in her country. Currently Director for Visual Arts at the Center for Latin American Studies Romulo Gallegos (CELARG).