In Part 1 of our walkthrough of the exhibition Las Metáforas del Cambio, co-curators Alejandro Machando Font and Concha Fontenla touched on themes of private and public, collectivity and individuality, religion, and sexuality. Then, the conversation got interesting.

Uncle Sam passes the baton to El Bobo in a frame from Carrera de relevo (Relay Race, 2010) by Sandra Ramos

Picking up the tour on the gallery’s second floor, we moved on from Eduardo Hernández’s photographs and photo-collages to a pair of large paintings by Rocío García, including an early work being shown publicly for the first time. “It was done in 1986,” said Machado Font. “She had just come back from studying in Russia. This is part of a series she did about the museum, Museos I Y II. She was very overwhelmed by the culture, and these works were a response to that.” Done ten years later, the triptych Las cabezas de Dios showed the artist well on her way to her signature style. “This was another aspect of change that we wanted to explore,” said Machado Font. “The idea of an artist’s evolution, her dialogue with herself.”

The 2012 installation Solve et Coagula—“separate and united, in Latin”—by José Ángel Toirac and Meira Marrero addresses not only themes of the exhibition but of the book that inspired it. Taking as its focus the monument to the U.S.S. Maine, a battleship that was destroyed in Havana harbor during the War of Independence, the work examines the history of the monument to the present. It was originally designed as a pair of columns capped by a carved eagle on a platform bearing the word “Libertad.” After the revolution, the eagle and platform were removed, with the intention of replacing them with a monumental dove promised by Pablo Picasso. But the dove never materialized, and the top of the monument remains empty, its columns encased in scaffolding—a metaphor, says Machado Font, for “a country still in process, still under construction.” Or as Fontenla put it, “It’s an ellipsis… a silence… a waiting.”

Across from Solve et Coagula, a series by Lázaro Saavedra tackled history using humor. Titled Nada más lindo que un día detrás de otro, (Nothing more beautiful than one day after another), the series features drawings done in pencil and colored in a schoolboy style, some of them signed “Lazarito” in a childish scrawl. One deftly drawn cartoon showed an incredulous Christopher Columbus, knee-deep in Cuban waters, met by armed Coast Guard troops and snarling dogs.

On the gallery’s third floor, the subject turned to immigration and the relationship of developed and developing nations, as seen in works by Abel Barroso and Sandra Ramos. Unlike their solo shows presented during the Bienal at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the works here were older; Ramos, for instance, was represented by La vida no cabe en una maleta (fragmento) (Life does not fit into a suitcase, 1996), which poignantly reflects on the process of leaving a homeland, and what one ends up taking and leaving behind.

A second Ramos work, the animation Carrera de Relevo (Relay Race, 2010), offered a summation of Cuban history in under two minutes, in the guise of a stadium race run before cheering crowds. Christopher Columbus runs the first leg, passing the baton to a succession of teammates including Uncle Sam, El Bobo (a 1930s newspaper cartoon created by artist Eduardo Abela), Vladimir Lenin, Liborio (a pre-revolutionary cartoon symbolizing the Cuban people), and Ramos herself as her familiar schooolgirl avatar. Without missing a beat, the film manages to throw the outcome open to speculation, suggesting another metaphor for “a country still in process.”

The exhibition’s final juxtaposition began with a suite of 19th-century engravings by Eduardo Laplante. On loan from the Colonial Art Museum of the Office of the Historian of Havana, they illustrated the sugar industry in Cuba in that era. Machado Font emphasized the importance of sugar in Cuba, and why he and Fontenla chose to end the show on this theme: “Our history is written on sugar cane,” he said.

Laplante’s exquisitely detailed prints brought an added resonance to the final work, selections from Ricardo Elías’s series and installation Oro Seco (Dry Gold). At the invitation of the curators, Elías himself was on hand to talk about the work. He explained that as the global price of sugar nosedived in the 1980s and early 1990s, 75 of the island’s more than 200 sugar-processing empresas were shut down. Many of these local enterprises were the economic backbones of their areas, and the impact of their closures was immense. The dislocation was not only economic but cultural; many of the workers knew no other way of life. Elías spoke of the cinquentenarios, who had worked 50 years or more in the same sugar processing plant, and of harvest times that were treated as fiestas, with young and old alike joining in. Along with a list of the closed plants and photographs of their abandoned premises, Elías’s installation includes a video that poetically evokes the way of life that is vanishing with the loss of sugar production.

In summing up their approach to Las Metáforas del Cambio, the curators spoke of their interest in broadening the visual-art conversation to include more of the scope of history, economics, and cultural change. “You know, a lot of bienals are made of many separate little pieces,” said Fontenla, turning to a metaphor of her own. “When you make mayonnaise, you have oil, you have egg, a little lemon, and some salt. But you have to put them together. With this exhibition,” she concluded with a smile, “we wanted to make mayonnaise.”

Las Métaforas del Cambio was presented at Factoría Habana from May 10 through June 11, 2012.