The Art of Freedom

And where is the art here? A lady asks in English, an Israeli citizen. They explain her, and she pretends to understand. She browses on the walls hung pictures, she does not see even underground. She goes with the onslaught of those who want to see, touch, because they do not believe what they see. The New York Times has invited in its editorial to visit the 12th Havana Biennial, and recommends the island as the second tourist destination in the world.

We are in the Romerillo, parallel to the famous Fifth Avenue in Miramar, a suburb of humble houses and fraternal neighbors who do not get over their astonishment. There are hundreds of cameras and photographers from all over, like the scene in which statements are expected. They await the signal of an artist, who goes down the street followed by children dressed as bees, and stilt walkers who play drums and trumpets.

On one side, there is a grocery store with decorated facade and a doctor's office transformed into an art gallery. The other, a New Yorker who studied in Puerto Rico still intervenes from a ladder the wall in the corner. Later, the Chinese Qiang CaiGuo- installs a contemporary art museum in the house of communal culture. Further back, in a picturesque metal can, a man removes the soupy that will help calm the stomachs of this headquarters that is the Martha Machado Cultural Center.

And there is a Korean, Han Sungpil, displaying a huge Korean pagoda in front of the Capitol. And two Belgians of unlimited scope: De Cupere manipulates a flower that smells like vaginas, like olfactory artist. 

Vanmechelen aims to reintroduce the Cubalaya hen, extinct in the archipelago. There is a Hindu locked in a cage for over sixty hours in the Plaza de Armas, to study communication between men. And an African that makes bags and model of aircraft in the House of Africa. And four young Japanese in the Museum of Asia who intend to overcome cultural barriers. And five from Middle East, each more passionate, whether Afghan women or the Algerian...

Havana opens its twelve edition, on the same day of thirty -one years ago, while the well-known Venice commemorates the fifty-six, as the most important and oldest of all. The two are showcase of the best in contemporary art, but their starting point and budgets are different: here the periphery is the center, and the center can be the periphery. So that art is not heritage of princes.

In this magazine we wanted to talk to those who think their Biennale beyond any mega show. They have called nearly a thousand artists to take a Third World capital and more than three hundred of them come from nearly fifty countries. As the best symbol, they placed an orange ring at Morro to unleash the largest exhibition of Cuban art that has been conceived in the fortress of La Cabana.

And they have taken schools, book stores, homes of grandparents, libraries, large plazas and neighborhood parks like that of Lennon, where a giant wheel awaits, or Lam, an unnamable party, entire neighborhoods as Casablanca and Columbus, public buildings and dozens of private apartments. In all, more than a thousand artists exhibit, and over one hundred and ninety projects are scattered throughout the capital. Only ten percent is within galleries.

The classic wall of the Malecon have appeared with wooden watchtowers, a magical blue bucket, a giant pan with forks, and very close to the huge cake, and even a rustic beach named Resaca with thatched umbrellas and loungers. There is an Irish artist: DukeRiley, nationalized American, who has enjoyed to install the closest thing to an ice rink from where he smiles after his peculiar hat, invaded by all kinds of Cuban proposals.

After he had signed up more than 1200 accredited Americans, the Bronx Museum housed the largest exhibition that has come to Cuba to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, while young Americans have joined Cubans in Pabellon Cuba, where Levi Orta has installed a kind of stock market, with the participation of more than twenty restaurants and private workers under the Cuban Capital title.

The 12th Biennial of Havana, participatory and transgressive, is already a success even without concluding. And Art for Excellencies, by the will of the Excellencies Group, wanted to accompany the innovative approach of its curators. Here the truth of a contemporary art exhibition, with renewed call to the ongoing social transformation, the real dialogue with the public, the search for new spaces of civility, to create more opportunities for citizen participation.

Havana is already the largest open work gallery has never known. It is a libertarian art possible in this Liberty Island, as in any other time and context. No thaw: the platform of the excluded. It is the Art of Freedom.

Jose Carlos de Santiago, President Excellencies Group