With the theme of “Artistic Practices and the Social Imaginary,” this year’s Bienal is taking to Havana’s streets, parks, and plazas in an outpouring of public art. In previous articles, we focused on one of these projects, Detrás del muro (Behind the Wall). Here, Cuban Art News takes a look at the Bienal in general.

Video frame from Ana Mendieta, Rock Heart with Blood, 1975.
Courtesy Walker Arts Center

First, some statistics: this year’s biennial features work by 115 invited artists representing more than 40 countries. Among them are 36 Cuban artists living on and off the island, and more than 60 artists from elsewhere in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Spain. Other countries represented include Egypt, South Africa, and Canada.

Several artists are scheduled to perform or create“interventions” in parks around the city, including the Guatemalan collective Caja Lúdica (Villalón Park in the Vedado district), Joëlle Ferly of Guadalupe (park at 23rd Street between C and D Streets), and Brazilian artist Marlon de Azambuja (park at 21st and H). The Cuban duo Los Carpinteros will exhibit their sculpture along the tree-lined pedestrian boulevard of the Prado, and Cuban artist Jorge Luis Santana’s environmental sculpture Perspectiva—which resembles an oversized submarine periscope with a convex mirror at the top—features motion sensors that enable interactions with the public.

Ten curatorial projects and exhibitions complement the Bienal’s central exhibition, which takes place in the great hall of the Gran Teatro de La Habana and the Cuban Pavilion. In addition to Behind the Wall,they include Open Score, an exhibition exploring the relationship between art and new media, curated by Dannys Montes de Oca and Luis Gómez (at the Hispanic American Cultural Center); La caza del éxito (The Hunt for Success), a survey of contemporary Cuban architecture and design curated by Nelson Herrera Ysla (at the Center for Visual Arts Development); and La Ética antes de la Forma, curated by Italian critic and independent curator Raffaele Gavarro (at the Galería Galeano).

The list of curatorial projects also includes Cinema Remixed & Reloaded 2.0, a version of the 2008 exhibition Cinema Remixed and Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image Since 1970, organized by the Spelman College Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. Curated by the original co-curators Andrea Barnwell Brownlee and Valerie Cassel Oliver, the exhibition features video works by eight artists, including Lorna Simpson, Kara Walker, and Carrie Mae Weems. In a press statement, Bienal director Jorge Fernández noted that “this exhibition will mark the first presentation of a curatorial team from the United States included as a participant in the main program of the Biennial.” Co-curator Cassel Oliver observed that “black women video artists are highly attuned to the broad concept of social imaginaries,” adding that “for this reason [they] often create works that are steeped in collective histories and social critique.”

The Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno (CAAM, the Atlantic Center for Modern Art) in the Grand Canary Islands is collaborating on a cycle of conferences on contemporary art that will take place during the Bienal. In part a look back at CAAM’s two decades of existence, this “theoretical event” will [take place at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and will result in a book. This edition of the Bienal is an homage to the late curator and art critic Antonio Zaya, a native of the Grand Canary Islands, who organized three previous Havana Bienals.

One of the most eagerly anticipated events in connection with the Bienal is the opening of CIFO: Una mirada múltiple. Selections from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection, a major exhibition of contemporary art from the holdings of Cuban-born collector Ella Fontanals-Cisneros and the Cisneros-Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO). One of the first projects of the foundation’s recently established CIFO Europa, it marks the first time a complete exhibition of CIFO works is being presented outside the Foundation’s own premises. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the exhibition curated by Osbel Suárez will be presented at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and will feature works by international artists such as Ai Weiwei (Forever Bicycles, 2003), Olafu Eliasson (Blue Double Kaleidoscope, 2005), and Barbara Kruger (Untitled (We Are Objects of Your Suave Entrapments), 1984), and Cuban-born performance artist Ana Mendieta (Rock Heart with Blood, 1975). Performance artist Marina Abramovic is slated to deliver a lecture at the museum as well.

According to the website Cibercuba, Cuban artists participating in the Bienal include Carlos Garaicoa, Jorge Luis Santana, Esterio Segura, Sandra Ramos, Réne Francisco and 4ta pragmática, José Angel Vincench, Florencio Gelabert Soto, Tony Labat, Jorge Pardo, Roberto Fabelo, JEFF (José Emilio Fuentes Fonseca), Grethell Rasúa, María Magdalena Campos Pons and Neil Leonard, Iván Capote, Antonio Gómez Margolles, Duniesky Martín and Raychel Carrión, Susana P. Delahante Matienzo, Carlos Martiel, Luis Gárciga and Celia González – Yunior Aguiar, Javier Castro, Los Carpinteros (Marcos Antonio Castillo Valdés y Dagoberto Rodríguez Sánchez), Ángel Ricardo Ríos, Reynier Leyva Novo, Kcho (Alexis Leyva Machado), Rewell Altunaga, and Juan Roberto Diago.

The Havana Biennial opens Friday, May 11.