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At the Wifredo Lam Center: art in the plural

At the Wifredo Lam Center: art in the plural

On May 22, 2015, the Center was bursting at the seams. A great number of those present were Cuban and international artists, always available to uncover their critical sense, gearing it towards the event about to occur. After the usual inaugural speech, the group performance Son en Señas, organized by artist Francisca Benítez, took place. It was an immediate and concrete example of the aforementioned inclusive spirit.

That undoubtedly moving event aimed to reflect upon human nature’s capacity for adaptation and everything positive that may be extracted from it as long as it is done with an uplifting frame of mind. It is ready to demonstrate the real value of resistance, no holds barred. Son de señas is a genuine exhortation, a hymn to will that alerts us to the possibility of transformation without turning our backs on reality. The performance showed that it had been rigorously put together and it especially showed admirable humility on the part of the collaborating social group (sponsored by ANSOC, the National Association for the Deaf in Cuba) as well as the artist herself.

After the performance, the mass of spectators quickly went up to the second floor. The feeling on ground level was that something extremely dynamic was about to happen, like a sort of ritual somewhere between frenetic sound and the need for bodies to launch their energies outwards. The work revolved around a piece by Nigerian artist Victor Ekpuk. It was a profound and moving tale arising from every printed symbol, speaking to us about a grand ceremony when considered as a whole.

The main strength of Ekpuk’s work, Abakuas, lies in the simplicity from which it is born, from the very contrast provided by the selected materials (white chalk on a black background), from the infinite spiritual universe he carries and is able to materialize at each place he goes. In just a few square meters, the artist installed his Yoruba kingdom, made it possible for a group of Cuban Santeria practitioners to enter it so that the contents of the ritual and the speculative nature of the art could fuse and produce moments of remarkable emotion. Music, dance and a variety of symbols became for a few minutes the starring nucleus of the entire exhibition.

The participation of another group of international artists also enriched the decentralizing nature of the substantial visual encounter at the Wifredo Lam Center. I was particularly impressed by the work of Gilberto Esparza, Jean Mukendi, Henri Tauliaut, Josuhe Paglieri, Axel Stock Burger, Ebony Patterson and Tino Sehgal. In the specific case of Tino Sehgal, I think that he has become a reference point in the world for the most advanced, serious and utilitarian positions taken by performance art as a language. His themes have been taken over by his obsession to communicate with spectators, constantly prioritizing exchanges between the art and the viewers.

The powerful creative force of Lázaro Saavedra (2014 National Visual Arts Prizewinner) once again stands out among Cuban artists. In my opinion he belongs among the great artists who, regardless of their media, solely respond to the impulses of their own energy to work towards demystification. He named his piece Pez Peo [Fart fish] and I interpret it as a true hymn to immaterialism. It is terrain charged with spectacular ironies, where we gaze upon an apparently empty fishbowl and we are given a plastic bag filled with water where supposedly we are going to take the enigmatic Fart Fish home with us.

Before we conclude our tour of the Wifredo Lam Center during this 12th Biennial, I’d like to mention the work of another Cuban, Ariel Candelario Luaces. This is a sculpture that is also a perfectly inhabitable building constructed in the back courtyard of the Center. At the opening, the various rooms in the building were being animated by charismatic living statues. The rooms manage to communicate the idea of habitat, something we are also a part of. The top floors will serve as exhibition space for young artists who have no place to show their art. The building will remain at the Center for one year. Candelario has participated in other Biennials as part of his MACSAN (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de San Agustín) Project. This time he did it as an individual but at the same time he represents the spirit of the place with which he is inextricably associated.

June 2015 This article formed part of the june 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.

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