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Elephants and cockroaches invade Havana

Elephants and cockroaches invade Havana

For approx a month now, a delightful herd of elephants and a strange plague of revolting insects have seemed to capture the interest of Habaneros. “I wonder where the elephants are today.” “Did you already see the roaches?”

Quinceañeras,1 who until recently would demand their pictures taken in places usually inaccessible to their parents’ pockets, now make it a point to pose stroking one of the bugs, which usually make them run and shriek when they are encountered in their homes. Kiddies, meanwhile, prefer to tirelessly scour the city for the elephants’ whereabouts.

The heat, the latest soap opera, and even the run of bad luck by the capital’s baseball team are soon forgotten thanks to the 10th Havana Art Biennial, which this year has poured onto to the streets through installations, happenings, performances, billboards…

At the Plaza de San Francisco, in the heart of Old Havana, Alexis Leyva (Kcho) invited artist friends Tomás Sánchez, Luis Gómez, Edgar Echevarría, Yoan Capote (Cuba), Cai Guo Quiang (China), Peter Nadin (UK-US), Mariana Bunimov (Venezuela), Tatsuo Miyajima (Japan), Shirit Neshat (Iran), Patricia Gerber, Flaminio Jallageas (Brazil), Jane Alexander (South Africa), Shoja Azari (Iran-US), Patrick Tutofuoco (Italy) and the group AES+F (Russia) to join him in the suitably named happening Punto de Encuentro, a merry-go-round formed by rustic ships.

One performance which attracted a multitude of interested people or just plain onlookers was Mendive’s El espíritu, la naturaleza y las cabezas: dancers from Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, Conjunto Folklórico Nacional and Danza del Caribe dance companies walked down Prado Street, from the Saratoga Hotel to the Orígenes Art Gallery, located at the Gran Teatro de La Habana, where the artist waited for them to paint on their nude bodies, while the pianist Pura Ortiz played Baroque music.

With transitory character, the artists Mariella Sola (Chile), Romain Osi (France) and Armando Miguélez (Spain) presented Correspondencia AEA (Artistas en Expansión Asociados), a projection of pictures of the inhabitants of six different cities—Mexico, D.F., Buenos Aires, Paris, Santiago de Chile, Niteroi and Havana—against the walls of public buildings in these cities as a “reflection on the potential constructions and deconstructions of urban spaces.” The sites chosen for Havana included the Cabaña Fortress, one of the sides of the Fine Arts Museum, and one of the walls of Iglesia del Cristo.

The Cuban artist Moisés Finalé, who for years has lived in France, went out onto to the busy pedestrian street of San Rafael in the heart of Centro Habana with a number of pieces worked with blacksmith elements and metal images, which reproduced his own work, inviting passers-by to enter the Collage Habana Gallery and visit his exhibition.

Meanwhile, in a Vedado park (15th and 4th streets), the artist from Santiago de Cuba, Alberto Lescay, installed Vuelo Lam, a 7-meter high, cast bronze sculpture formed by 52 different pieces, in tribute to the Cuban painter Wifredo Lam.

Retrátese con arte by artists Lesbia Vent Dumois, Alicia Leal, Dania Fleites, Nelson Domínguez, Ever Fonseca, Manuel López Oliva, Arturo Montoto, Roberto Fabelo, Ángel Ramírez, Eduardo Abela, Ernesto García Peña, Rubén Rodríguez, Joel Jovert, Aisar Jalil, César Leal and Ares also involved the public: the artists painted large panels with holes and invited viewers to stand behind the panels and stick out their heads and arms travelling fair-type photographs.

Opened before the Biennial and seemingly unrelated to it, the exhibition Imágenes del Louvre: seis siglos de pintura europea, integrated itself into the spirit of the event. Exhibited previously in the Dominican Republic and Uruguay, the show is a collection of excellent reproductions of paintings from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Few people have been able to resist not taking their pictures besides these reproductions of classic European paintings. Not surprisingly, Da Vinci’s immortal Gioconda was topmost in the people’s preference.

On the other side of the city, the San Agustín Artistic Laboratory (LASA), headed by artist Candelario, organized an extensive program with the participation of artists from different countries. Performances, public actions and outdoor works interacted with the neighbours of San Agustín—a place that is not included in the traditional exhibition circuit.

However, the two most talked about actions were definitely those by José Emilio Fuentes Fonseca (JEFF) and Roberto Fabelo.

Fonseca had his herd of 12 life-size elephants made of inflated metal plates visit different sites of the city—Plaza Vieja, the Capitolio, the Anti-imperialist Tribune, the University of Havana, the intersection of 31st and 60th streets in Miramar, Revolution Square and the Miramar Trade Center—captivating adults and children alike as they followed the herd’s trail round the city.

In turn, Roberto Fabelo’s Sobrevivientes is definitely less playful than Fonseca’s elephants: ten gigantic polyurethane cockroaches with human faces scaling the frontage of the Fine Arts Museum have encouraged a great many interpretations, from Franz Kafka’s Gregorio Samsa who one day woke up as an enormous beetle without having lost the ability to think and suffer the extraordinary metamorphosis, and which has become one of the symbols of alienation in today’s society, to a warning about the only survivors in a world where Nature is increasingly attacked, or an invitation to the hallucinating union to all things repulsive as a way of survival. But for many other people, oblivious to the sophisticated realization of conceptualism, “Fabelo’s roaches” were simply a curiosity, and a chance to find a likeness to some acquaintance, whether friend or enemy.

The 10th Havana Biennial, the most important event of the visual arts in Cuba, opened 130 collateral exhibitions with the participation of 300 artists from 54 countries under the theme Integration and Resistance in the Global Era.

Quinceañeras: Fifteen-year-old girls who celebrate this birthday with big parties and/or photo sessions to mark July 2009

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