This year’s Havana Biennial breaks away from pavilions, focusing instead on conversations between regions.
The Havana Biennial was founded in 1984 on the premise of building a platform for artists systematically excluded from the capitals of the visual arts market. From its beginning, it was self-classified as a “biennial of the third world.” Jorge Fernández Torres, Director of the 11th edition, says the Biennial’s early strategies “consisted of breaking away from the bazaar of pavilions and countries, thinking in the terms of artists from different regions, and allowing them to converse around a single thesis to bring forth investigations in transcendence for the whole planet.” Fernández’s perspectives align with a generation of Cuban artists who came of age in the 2000s, whose work focuses on a growing internationalism. The 11th Biennial’s integration of world-renowned European and U.S.-based figures was done with care, steering clear of eclipsing its local and regional focus on developing countries. Marina Abramovic, Hermann Nitsch, Los Carpinteros, and Gabriel Orozco’s presences all graced Cuba to contribute to a solidly global Biennial. However, rather than replicate the parachute effect characteristic of many present-day international biennials—in which curators and artists descend from abroad, develop temporary programs, and then abandon ship thereafter—the Havana performances inspired lasting dialogues with local players around the dialectics of new relationships formed by the increasingly open island borders, both virtual and physical.