I. Description of Country/County Placemark (political, geographic, economic, cultural)
Cuba has a history of colonization beginning in the 1400ʼs with the colonization of Spain. Cuba was the last Spanish colony and gained independence from Spain in 1898, but was circumstantially under the power of the US until the Cuban Revolution began in 1959. La Vanguardia, a political art movement, became a part of the Cuban art culture in 1927 until 1938. This was a modernist expression of Cuban political ideals and desires for their country. Because of their oppression, many of the Cuban artists were forced to leave the country to study art in Germany, Madrid, and Rome, Paris. The art scene in Cuba has been since the early 20th century, very sophisticated and eclectic as a result of many cultures combining – the native inhabitants, African slaves, Spaniards, and Anglo-Americans as well as Latinos from other regions.
Cuban art has flourished and is part of a deeply rich Cuban culture. The Havana Biennial was established in 1982. The second year it included Asian art, making it the international center for non-Western art.
The Cuban pavilion with its selection of 15 artists reflects the ideas of multicultural art and also the idea of internationality. There are 7 Cuban artists, one American, one German, etc… Overall the Cuban pavilion demonstrates how some of the issues of Cuba are also shared international issues and how Cuba as a Nation can relate to the world globally.
II.Description of Pavilionʼs art at the 2013 biennale/Country Pavilion
The title of Cubaʼs exhibition at the 55th Venice Biennale is “The perversion of the Classics: The Anarchy of Narrations.” The meaning is that the artists are using the art traditions to speak on a wide variety of societal and cultural issues, often with a political theme. Many of the pieces are very personal interpretations of existence in contemporary times while also relying on a historical background. Some of the pieces reach out for communication with the world as a world citizen while also tying in with Cuban roots. Some of the world also has a universal message while stemming from a very personal narrative. This seems to stem from an innate Cuban culture of the sharing of cultures.
Art in this yearʼs biennale included a wide range of sculpture and installation, as well as a performance piece, from political and narrative genre mostly. The many different view points intermingle to create something of a voice of many voices. This relates to the 55th Venice Biennale theme of the “Encyclopedic Palace” because the Cuban pavilion was represented by 15 artists, half of them being Cuban Natives, and half of them being from other countries. The piece “53+1=54+1=55” by Magdalena Maria Campos-Pons and Neil Leonard represents that idea. It seems to represent its hometown of Havana as well as the Cuban pavilion and the Venice Biennale all in one piece.
Cuba is also host to its own biennial, the Havana Biennial, which is the international center for non-Western art. This began with the representation of Asian artists at the Havana Biennial in 1986. Wang Du and H.H. Lim, from China and Malaysia respectively, helped to represent the Cuba fittingly at the 55th Venice Biennale.
The countryʼs pavilion took place at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Venezia at St. Markʼs Square on the southern shore of Venice. The museumʼs collection began 500 years ago when Venetian families began their collections and later donated them to the Republic of Venice. The collection boasts classic Greek sculptures as well as Greek and Roman coins, jewelry, ceramics and precious stones. St. Markʼs Square (Piazza San Marco in Italian) is the social, political and religious center of Venice.
III.Analysis of the “success” of the countryʼs pavilion/Country Pavilion
The Cuban Pavilion was exceptional in its ability to relate to the world while also speaking from its own point of view. New ideas were interwoven into the art fabric. The pavilion was also provocative and intense. It attempted to intrigue, maybe alarm its viewers. Nothing was created as the end all piece, each piece held center stage while also being aware that it exists in the midst of something else.
In the future it is expected that Cuba will continue to address the global as well as political issues. Cuban art will continue to reflect upon strong cultural heritage and the sharing of cultures.
IV.Brief biography of artists exhibited at the pavilion/artistʼs birthplace placemark
Glenda Leon, Cuban born 1976, is a former ballet dancer with a passion for music. At the age of 14 she began her ballet practice at the Centro de Prodanza de Cuba where she danced under the direction of Laura Alonso for nine years. In Havana she later studied art history at Facultad de Artes y Letras and also became a visual artist. From 2005-2007 she studied at the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne.
Her piece for the 55th Venice Biennale is an installation of a music box suspended from the ceiling above a disc which looks like a large record but with tiny sparkling orbs scattered about. The record slowly spins and every time an orb passes by, a note sounds from the music box. Glenda Leon is seeking to relate music and sound to space and to forms in space. It seems to interact to forms in space as they move.
Maria Magdalena was born in Matanzas Cuba in 1959, with Native Cuban as well as Nigerian ancestry. She can trace her lineage back to the Nigerian slave trade from the Spanish Colonizers. She studied at the Escuela Nacional de Arte and the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana and eventually received her MFA from the Massachusetts College of Art. From 1986-1989 she taught painting and aesthetic at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) in Havana. Currently she is a Professor at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts.
Married to Composer Neil Leonard, an American composer, the couple began their artistic collaborations in 1988. The use of music and sound in their work along with their multi-ethnic backgrounds is a reflection of the contemporary world in which they work in. In 2004 they founded Gallery Artists Studio Projects in Brookline, Massachusetts. Neil Leonard also founded the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.
Liudmila and Nelson are a pair of artists who live and work in Havana Cuba, but neither of them is from Cuba. Liudmila Velasco is from Moscow, Russia, born in 1969 and Nelson Ramirez is from Berlin, Germany, also born in 1969. They have been a collaborative photography team since 19934. They met while both attending San Alejandro Art Academy in Havana.
The series Absolut Revolution is a pun on the registered trademark Absolut Vodka. This photo series is built around the important Cuban national monument dedicated to Jose Marti in Havana. Jose Marti was a writer and revolutionary who supported Cubaʼs independence from Spain in 1898. The plaza surrounding the monument was originally called the Plaza Civica Jose Marti, but at the time of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 the plaza was renamed Plaza de La Revolucion Jose Marti. Thus the monument and the plaza became symbols for both revolutions. In the series, the two artists have created a futuristic ocean swirling around the monument so that none of the island can be seen except the monument itself. This is to show the future of the island with the problem of the rising sea level.
It seems interestingly fitting that a video from this series was exhibited at the Cuban Pavilion that was located in Saint Markʼs Square in Venice. This interesting juxtaposition of two monuments which share the difficult problem of facing the rising waters crisis, and are both important symbols of strength and power to their respective peoples.
Born in Havana in 1969, Sandra Ramos grew up during the distressful Cuban revolution. The artist attended school at Higher Institute of Art ISA in Havana from 1988-93 and is now working there as a teacher.
Much of Sandra Ramosʼ work is based on her personal experience as a Cuban living in Cuba. She experienced the difficult life of leaving her family at a young age when National programs caused many children to do so in the 1990ʼs. Much of her work is autobiographical but also very political. She often used images to speak of complex and heavy political and social issues, including immigration and deportation, traveling in Latin America, the female body, spirituality and government-to-government relations. Sometimes she uses a young girl character who confronts a lot of these issues.
In one of her “Bridges”, exhibited at the 2013 Venice Biennale, Sandra Ramos is expressing a desire to be in different places, a memoir of her experience to be also shared and experienced by the viewer. This bridge is a replica of the journey from Miami, Florida to Havana, Cuba. Using photos which are lit from inside the bridge construction, the viewer can walk across the bridge while looking down and can experience stepping into different worlds.