We report back from the 11th Havana Biennale

Cornerhouse Programme and Engagement Director Sarah Perks reports back from the 11th Havana Biennale…

I attended the Havana Biennale to research a forthcoming group exhibition about the aftermath of revolution and to look for Cuban and Latin American artists to include in our future programming. The Havana Biennale is an attractive event boasting over 180 artists from 45 countries, yet it didn’t feel too big or inaccessible and it was easy to meet the artists.

The biennial took place over several large exhibition spaces in the city. Of note was the Gran Teatro which featured engaging media works by Pablo Langlois (Chile) and Marcos Agudelo (Nicaragua). This was also where I discovered the stunning film Por aqui tudo bem. Set in Angola and made by artist Pocas Pascoal, the film tells a story of personal tragedy and conflict, and will hopefully be featured in our group exhibition next year.

The established Cuban artists Sandra Ramos and Abel Barroso had solo exhibitions at the Museo Nacional De Bellas Artes. Both artists chose to take visa control and international borders as their subject. Ramos’ drawings used images from her passport whilst Barroso created playful wooden games including pinball and monopoly where the winner got a visa. Over at the Pabellón Cuba, Manchester based artist Humberto Velez showed his sound piece La Carrera which is about a race across social divides in Panama.

A highlight of the Biennale was the performance and public realm work. The performance by Manuel Mendive in particular drew masses of people outside the Gran Teatro. The crowds continued to parade down the street, following the semi-naked, spotted performers and dancers who held aloft Mendive’s signature canvases.

Works along the Malecón sea front promenade largely looked at migration. Standout pieces included Rachel Valdés Camejo’s crowd pleasing mirror installation Happily Ever After No. 1 and Arlés del Río’s installation piece Fly Away by Arlés, in which the cut out shape of a miniature airplane on a wire fence, suggested that it had just flown through.

The Russian born, America based artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov contributed The Ship of Tolerance which also overlooked the bay. Cuban-American artist Jose Parla and French artist J.R. worked together on captivating graf-style portraits of elderly Cuban folk for Wrinkles Of The City.

Though this year’s biennial felt as though it was on the cusp of great things, I predict a big splash for the next edition. For good reason, any political commentary within the works was up to viewer to determine.