14ymedio, Havana, 5 May 2018 — This Saturday the independent #00Bienal was opened, an event that in recent days has been at the center of official attacks. In the vicinity of the site in Old Havana several members of the State Security dressed in civilian clothes were visible but they did not prevent the more than twenty guests from coming to the place.
The artistic event is getting underway a few days after one of its organizers, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, lamented the “lack of respect” with which the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) and the Hermanos Saíz Association (AHS) have addressed the event and the artists who support it, in a statement made public this Thursday.
In the statement, both official associations maintained that #00Bienal is being financed “with funds from the mercenary counterrevolution” and attacked the promoters and described their language as “demagogic and cynical”, among other things.
“Our financing comes from crowdfunding which is very transparent and from a donation from Novo, which is money from the National Council of Plastic Arts,” Otero Alcántara says, defending the #00 Biennial defends in a telephone conversation with 14ymedio.
The artist has expressed his anger at the words expressed in the joint statement. “[The press release] uses the most annoying and offensive terms that one can imagine and they are also preposterous, saying that we are a ‘monster’ and a small group of artists without work when in fact we are 140 artists involved in the event,” he laments.
According to UNEAC’s Tuesday statement against the #00Bienal, “It is intended to mislead artists to use their studies, which have the full support of the institution, based on a provocative maneuver.” Both groups add that the purpose of the independent creators is to “break down the institutional system, confuse the artists and create a propitious climate to promote the interests of the enemies of the nation.”
The artist, who rejects the accusations, believes that the official entities despise those who have a short career and deny them space.
At the end of last year, UNEAC suspended the XIII Biennial of Havana until 2019 due to “the very serious damage caused by Hurricane Irma to the country’s system of cultural institutions.” This decision led a group of artists to try to emancipate themselves from the guardianship of officialdom and organize an Independent Biennial for which they created a crowdfunding campaign and collected donations from the participants.
The organizers of the Havana #00Bienal have planned to start their sessions between the 5th and the 15th of this month and have obtained the support of several artists and independent spaces on the Island.
“We have said from the beginning that we are not against the Biennial or the institution, but the event is not their property, but that of the artists,” says Otero Alcántara.
Among the artists who have joined the event are Tania Bruguera, founder of the Hannah Arendt International Institute of Artivism, and Lázaro Saavedra, winner of the 2014 National Prize in Plastic Arts
“We also have the most important curator that this country has had in recent years: Gerardo Mosquera, founder of the Biennial, Jorge Luis Marrero, Henry Erick, Celia Junior, Hamlet Lavastida and artists who have been at the Venice Biennale, and, of course, from Chino Novo, who was the first Cuban invited to Venice, as well as Ernesto Orosa, who has a work in which he invites other Cuban artists such as Tomás Sánchez to the #00Bienal,” the artist details.
Last April, Otero Alcántara and curator Yanelis Núñez won the 2018 Champions of Freedom of Expression Prize, promoted by the British NGO Index of Censorship for “their incredible work” at the Museum of Dissidence by defying “enormous obstacles,” personal and political, simply so that others can express themselves freely.”
They have also added independent galleries and artistic projects such as Aglutinador, managed by Sandra Ceballos, and the Riera Studio of Samuel Riera. The list is completed by the independent gallery El Oficio, together with the studios Yo soy el que soy and Coco Solo Social Club.
The #00Bienal has been convened by the Museum of Politically Uncomfortable Art (MAPI) section of the Museum of Dissidents, located in Old Havana. The organizers have planned to present activities in different areas of the city where the visual arts will be mixed with other cultural events.
The presence of artists from Spain, Columbia, Mexico, Brazil, the United States, Romania and several African countries have been confirmed.
UNEAC, for its part, says that “very few persons” have joined the event, and attributes “unhealthy or confused” intentions to the artists who are planning to participate in the Biennial.
Cuba’s cultural policy, sealed since 1961 by the words of Fidel Castro in his speech to the intellectuals, establishes that “Within the Revolution everything, outside the Revolution, nothing.” Artists and intellectuals in Cuba are called to serve the established political system which is considered “irrevocable.”
According to UNEAC’s statutes, approved by the members of the National Council on 27 April 2015, “UNEAC bases its existence on Article 7 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba and recognizes the Cuban Communist Party as the superior leading force of society and the State.”
The official XIII Biennial of Havana will take place between April 12 and May 12, 2019. UNEAC and the AHS made it clear that they will not allow “the name and meaning of the Havana Biennial to be marred,” a veiled threat to the #00Bienal, whose organizers have already faced arbitrary arrests and detentions.
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