Art frenzy takes over Havana as biennial kicks off

Art frenzy takes over Havana as biennial kicks off

HAVANA - Reuters
Art frenzy takes over Havana as biennial kicks off

Cones of white paper sprout from the sea-salt-eroded pillars of one colonial building along Havana's seafront, elaborately painted curtains cascade from another while out front children play with an installation of multicolored hoses.

Havana's 13th Biennial kicked off this weekend with works by more than 300 contemporary artists from 52 countries taking over the city's museums, galleries and open-air spaces, and many more collateral exhibits.

"They turned my home into an artwork," said Silvia Perez, smiling at the paper sprouting from the colonnade of her home, a piece by Cuban artist Elio Jess Fonseca. "The artist said it meant peace."

The transformation of the Malecon seafront boulevard into an open-air, interactive gallery, has become one of the most popular venues of Cuba's most important arts event.

Along the sidewalk this year are smooth boulders encased in volcanic slabs by Mexican artist Jose Davila, while a swirling light installation by Peruvian artist Grimanesa Amoros protudes from a building.

Cuba's Communist government, which has heavily promoted the arts since the country's 1959 leftist revolution, created the Havana Biennial in 1984 to promote artists from the developing world, especially Cuban ones.

This year, 80 Cubans will exhibit their work, including a performance on Monday by Manuel Mendive, considered the Caribbean island's top living artist. 

Still, it also includes a large contingent of European and U.S. artists including Cuban-Americans like Enrique Martnez Celaya and Emilio Perez.

Biennial Director Jorge Alfonso said it had been a challenge to stage the biennial given Cuba's difficult economic situation - authorities postponed it half a year - but that it had succeeded underscored the importance Cuba placed on culture.

"Not even in the most difficult moments have we ever given up on staging one of these kind of events," he said.

"The slogan of this year's edition, 'the construction of the possible', is related to our ideal that a better world is possible."

Some artists who are critical of the government however have subverted that slogan.

The Havana Biennial runs until May 12.

Havana, Biennial, arts