I met Edisabel Marrero Tejeda in Seoul; she travelled to Korea as a fellow at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in 2014, proposing a research on the position of several Korean women artists. Apart from her research, she managed to support the participation of Korean artist Han Sungpil to be part of the 12th edition of the Havana Biennial; this was the first Korean participation in the Biennial since 1994 and it attracted a lot of debate. Han Sungpil created a 28 x 33 m fabric showing the restoration of a Three-Story Stone Pagoda from a temple site in Korea, that he superimposed on the façade of the Abril Publisher building situated in front of the National Capitol Square, one of the most famous landmarks in Havana. The intervention, entitled Harmonious Havana – Façade Project, brought together two architectural milestones on a highly politicized territory, expanding the discussion around authenticity and identity.
The discourse surrounding the art projects that have been produced in Cuba brings me back to a very familiar territory – that of the art that has been created in Central and Southeastern Europe between the 1960s and the 1990s. As Edisabel Mattero Tejeda mentions, this specific visual attitude, combined with the physicality of a space loaded with political energy and doubt, is always celebrated by the ever-hungry art world and many times it is exoticized. But deep down, the issues that motivate certain artists to act are determined by a complex array of factors that are connected to their social background, to climate, to geographical position and to language. Many times, institutions are simply powerless and confused in front of a shifting socio-political environment, unable to respond in an inspired way to the sincerity of an artist asking legitimate questions.
Culturally, Cuba is considered to be part of South America. But in reality, can Cuba be accurately identified as being part of any geopolitical structure? It has a difficult position, that is sugary and bitter at the same time, between two territorial mammoths, requiring a constant evaluation of its fundaments. I remember Tania Bruguera’s performance The Burden of Guilt IV, presented at the Gwangju Biennial in the year 2000. She was sitting naked, with the head shaved and a rope around her neck that was being attached by her left arm which was pulling the rope behind her back, in the center of a room covered in lambskin. At the same time, in a reflex gesture, the artist was rubbing a sharp rock with her right hand. The visitors were passing by her body, while from time to time, the lights were turned off and one could hear the sound of bleating sheep. In an adjacent room, the floor had been covered with layers of sugar and on a suspended monitor, televised clips of Fidel Castro were shown. This work, part of a larger series with the same name, has a lot of layers that are partly connected to the position of artist of bringing symbols together in such a way that the acid truth prevails, but in the same sense, it tackles the indifference of crowds towards vulnerability and the conformity of vision.
The body of texts written by Edisabel, focuses on the historical formation of Cuban art and the role of the Havana Biennial in internationalizing the cultural communication. While analyzing several emblematic case studies, she observes under the microscope facts and concepts that have shaped contemporary thinking in Cuba over the last sixty years and that have rendered its uniqueness.
Image credit: Rafael Villares, Reconciliation. Installation in public space located in Línea St., Vedado, Havana, Cuba, consisting of two street lamps, one used in Cuba and one in the United States. The work was commissioned by The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Cuba and it was first exhibited as part of the 11th Havana Biennial, in 2012, at the Higher Art Institute (ISA). For the artist, stopping under a light is like “going into the light”, there is no evasion, it is about revealing a direct action. The double streetlight unmasks and at the same time symbolizes, by interlacing, an event of reconciliation, an intimate scene of communion between the connection, the light that shines, and the spectator.