The rebel spirit of Carrie Mae Weems

For Carrie Mae Weems, being in Havana is not a novelty. In 2001 she exhibited the series Dreaming in Cuba here, an impeccable photo essay and visual poetry about the daily life of the African-Americans population in a context of continuous revolutionary transformations.

At that time, she was already a recognized artist in the United States, given her aesthetic achievements and outstanding social activism, advocating for Black communities and the emancipation of women.

Among her most notable works are the collections Family pictures and stories (1984), It’s no joke (1987-88), American icons (1988-89), and Colored People (1989-90), in which photos are accompanied by texts on stereotyped views of Blacks. Kitchen Table (1990) and From here I saw what happened and I cried (1995-96) represented turning points in her discourse, adding more force: on the one hand exposing the mobilizing factors behind the empowerment of African-American women, and on the other, appropriating 30 images from anthropological studies on the iconography of the Civil War and advertising, to draw attention to the racial discrimination. Tireless in her search, Weems resorts to photography, video, and performance to question realities.

The Weems who arrived at the XIII Havana Biennial is one who has reached a high level of artistic development, and assumed a remarkable position in the public life of her country. She did not come alone, but leading a multidisciplinary project, The spirit that resides, from the Carr Center, in which Ricky Weaver, Viktor L. Ewing-Givens, Katrina Sarah Miller, Erin Falker, Nadia Alexis, Ganavya Doraiswamy and Andrew Wilson also participated.

Her personal contribution to the project can be seen in prints on fabric, including a very powerful one reflecting violence against Black skinned citizens of the United States.

"Freedom must be conquered every day," Carrie Mae says, "and the voice of the other is just as important as one’s own, or more so. That is why I give great importance to this communion of different languages ​​to achieve an objective. Nobody owns the truth, but among all of us we can get closer to what we want to convey. In all this, there is a vision in which the political, the cultural, the intellectual, and the emotional intersect. For ideas to triumph, we have the duty to expose and discuss them; that is what this exhibition is about, which I am happy to share with you in a framework of so much creative life, the Havana Biennial of Havana."

The exhibition was shown in a house on San Lázaro Street, in Centro Habana, near the Malecón, close to the urban beat. Carrie Mae held a discussion with professors, students, and the general public at the National Museum of Fine Arts about her three and a half decades of creation and activism, and also joined the “Ríos intermitentes” program, hosted by outstanding artist María Magdalena Campos Pons, in Matanzas.

When I spoke with her in Havana, I recalled that in August of last year, Time magazine published a portrait of the filmmaker Spike Lee on its cover, and featured an article about the impact of his film Blackkklansman, recently screened in Cuba and reviewed by my colleague Rolando Pérez Betancourt. Lee and Weems share a strong connection, nurtured by a community of political and social interests.

She is very clear about her philosophy of life: "In the darkest hours, the struggle is to keep pushing, to move forward, to rebel and protest, to raise our voices against all forms of injustice, as we try to overcome the mistakes of the past, advance to a terrain higher, and cling more to hope .” (Quotes translated from the Spanish version of this article)

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BIENNIAL JOURNAL: The largest gallery (+ PHOTOS)

The “Malecón” (seaside esplanade) has once again become one of the most popular spaces of Havana Biennial. “Detrás del Muro” (Behind the Wall) project includes dozens of artists from several countries…

Right now, it is the largest gallery of Cuba: Havana’s Malecon, from the Antonio Maceo Park to the entrance to the tunnel under Havana’s Bay, houses works from dozens of artists participating in the “Behind the Wall” project, one of the most popular proposals of the 13th Havana Biennial.

In the previous edition it was already an authentic public phenomenon… and this year it will undoubtedly be the same. The way these pieces “meet” passers-by ensure an unusual interaction in traditional art exhibition spaces.

Therefore, most of the creators bet on discourses of great social impact: strong messages, suggestive images, emphatic palette… and ludic invitation to dialogue.

The particular architecture of an area, where recently restored buildings or under restoration coexist with real ruins, becomes support, inspiration or even realization of many of the works. To the extent that, at first sight, art merges with what we call everyday life.

Cuban artists share the space with US, Mexican, Spanish creators… in a mixed sequence in which sculpture and art installation prevail.

“Behind the Wall” represents the very core of Havana Biennial: art that breaks elitist schemes and lavishes itself for the satisfaction of the people… and to provoke them, in the best sense of the word.

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Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / CubaSi Translation Staff

JR in Chinatown

Renowned French artist JR is participating in the XIII Biennial of Havana with his thought-provoking giant photographs.

From the balcony of his home, a boy watches the street. The photographer, alert for the apparently most insignificant signs of everyday life, presses the shutter button. This same boy, who carries Cuba’s color on his skin, is resized by the artist and now his face appears on an enormous wall that separates a former movie theater in Havana’s Barrio Chino from the community recreation center next door.

This is the contribution of the renowned French artist JR to the XIII Biennial of Havana, an effort sponsored by the embassy of his country in Cuba and the local headquarters of Gallería Continua, which fits perfectly with the spirit of the eventl, and one of the key principles of Cuban cultural policy: democratize enjoyment of the highest aesthetic values.

JR’s image is visible to all passers-by on Rayo Street for a month, in the heart of Chinatown. "I'm not interested in making art for a few, nor do I believe in art as a preserve for specialists, but as an opportunity for people to recognize and share feelings," JR told Granma.

In recent years he has established a strong relationship with Cuba. He participated in the XI Biennial, in a joint effort with Cuban-American creator José Parlá. Placed in several areas of the city - I particularly remember the San Miguel mural, between Aramburu and Soledad Streets, in the Cayo Hueso neighborhood - were gigantic photos, in black and white, of 25 elderly people, which Parlá complemented with his particular way of graphically using facades and walls. The bookLos surcos de la ciudad (Wrinkles of the City: Havana), emerged from the work, and was well received by critics.

JR later came to the Havana, last December, to present at the National Museum of Fine Arts the second screening on the island of the documentary Rostros y lugares(Faces and Places), which had been shown during the 39th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema . In this work he accompanied the famous French filmmaker Agnes Varda, recently deceased, traveling deep into the French countryside in search of stories of ordinary people.

Art for the street, if you like ephemeral but impressive, is JR’s currency, which among us acquires a different meaning from that afforded in other places, he states, "Here the dialogue with the public is direct and does not compete with billboards advertising consumer products. The invitation is precisely to consume art, so that everyone who comes in contact with the child's photo, especially residents in Chinatown, becomes like him, contemplating with other eyes this part of the city where an especially popular atmosphere prevails.”

JR goes from one end of the world to the other with a conception of art that privileges human understanding. When he wanted to picture women with the dignity they deserve, he portrayed them with an evident poetic charge that was concretized in the series Woman are Heroes. One of his projects of global reach was InsideOut, launched in 2011, in which he invited everyone interested to send him a picture of themselves, with a phrase about what the image represented. More than 260,000 women and men from 129 countries have been involved since then.

JR has not shied away from the world’s most serious conflicts. As important as the Israeli-Palestinian orchestra of famous Argentine pianist and director Daniel Barenboim was Face2face, which he completed in 2007 on the Zionist occupied West Bank. Mixed feelings were unleashed by the images he brought to both sides of a wall erected by Israeli authorities: on an Israeli army watchtower in Tel Aviv he posted photos of Palestinians. On the facade of a building inhabited by Palestinians, he placed a giant photo of a Jew.

Trump and his xenophobic, anti-immigrant acolytes certainly did not like the monumental photo of Kikito, a one-year-old boy who lives in Tecate, just across the border from the United States. From the U.S. side it looks as if the child is about to jump.

Before traveling to Cuba for the XIII Havana Biennial, JR focused the attention of Parisians and tourists who constantly arrive to the French capital attracted by the artistic heritage it treasures. He camouflaged the iconic pyramid of the Louvre Museum with black and white images.

On one occasion, JR proclaimed: "Artists face the challenge of keeping their eyes open to the world and seeing things beyond what the media shows. I think the great walls are internal, and I like to knock them down by doing things that people think are impossible."

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Uruguay artist Fernando Foglino Exhibits in Havana Biennial

As part of the activities for the 13th Biennial of Havana, Uruguayan artist Fernando Foglino inaugurated his exhibition Evidencia, a selection of replicas of stolen pieces of historical monuments from his country.

Different fragments of Uruguayan public monuments that have been stolen are exhibited in one of the rooms of the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center thanks to 3D scanning technology.

The exhibition, shown for the first time, addresses the complex theme of the destruction of art from fiction and contemporary style.

This idea arises thanks to the work of the artist recognized by -MERCOSUR Visual Arts Award 2016- to register three statues of all the statues of the South American country.

Foglino told Prensa Latina that the topic, being able to analyze history through monuments, is very interesting.

'During my research I began to think that a single person could have all the parts missing, a kind of collector with the motivation to review the story.'

By an order of the Committee of curators of the Biennial between the pieces, there is one dedicated to the Cuban statue of the popular British singer John Lennon.

A video dedicated to the watchman of the glasses of the figure is part of the exposed works, about which the author commented that he found interesting, 'that person is a celebrity in the networks and the subject had a lot to do with my work' .

Also on display is the exact replica of the sculpture Niña de la pigeon by the renowned South American creator Armando González.

This symbolic image has been stolen in multiple occasions, reason why it encloses a mystery and very strong attraction on her, explained the creator of the sample.

Of all the exhibition there is something that acquires symbolic value and is the work of González, his reproductions were given to Fidel Castro and the museum that Salvador Allende created in 1971, from where he disappeared during the Chilean dictatorship, explained the Ambassador of Uruguay in Cuba Eduardo Lorier.

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