Cuba and U.S. join hands at Havana Biennial

Art’s indescribable bridges.

Foto: Cartel promocional del proyecto.

Artists are always ahead of the real plot or, in the language of these times, several levels above the rest of humans. If that vision of the future is to build new images of friendship, to connect feelings, to approach people, to look in the distance with a positive spirit and to build bridges, then the creator’s work is more stimulating and better received, because we already have more than enough obstacles and barriers.

“Happy together / Felices Juntos” draws from that good energy. It is an artistic project to foster the friendly exchange between renowned designers from Cuba and the United States and offer an optimistic vision regarding the rapprochements between both nations.

 

The project’s curatorship and coordination was by Yenela Miranda Bueno and Darwin Fornés Báez – curator and designer, respectively, of the René Portocarrero Silk-Screen Printing Gallery-Workshop – together with U.S. designer Daniel R. Smith, and was conceived based on the following plan:

 

“The unexpected reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States has initiated the path toward dialogue after more than 50 years of historic rivalry. At a time of political talks, numerous questions emerge that fluctuate between uncertainty and optimism, which is why the vision we have of such a recent phenomenon and in full development is so imprecise.”

 

“This conciliatory event bodes the emergence of mutual benefits that will become evident in the economic, political and social spheres. As a result there would be a change in the official discourse with respect to culture and the forms of interacting with it. How would the change in the reception of the previously relegated ideology be? How would the dialogue or confrontation between two cultures of opposite doctrines take place?”

 

“The ‘Happy Together / Felices Juntos’ project aims to deal with these and other questions through the representation – as its title enunciates – of the friendly meeting between both nations. Graphic and animated characters, which because of their transcendence have become cultural icons, will be used as a pretext for this.”

 

The realization of this idea is the representation of 12 characters of the U.S. imagery by 12 Cuban designers, while a similar number of U.S. designers will do the same with a dozen Cuban characters. Moreover, an artist from each country contributes with a poster exhibition. The final result is a panel where the characters from each nation alternate in the Havana Malecón seaside drive. At the start and the end of the panel are the posters with the information about the project in Spanish and English.

 

The U.S. characters / Cuban artists list is the following: Mickey Mouse/ Pepe Menéndez; Betty Boop/ Raul Valdés (RAUPA); Superman/ Robertiko Ramos; Popeye/ Giselle Monzón; Felix the Cat/ Edel Rodríguez (MOLA); Little Lulu/ Fabián Muñoz; Pink Panther/ Alejandro Rodríguez (ALUCHO); Bugs Bunny/ Laura LLópiz; The Simpsons/ Nelson Ponce; The Flintstones/ Darwin Fornés; South Park/ Idania del Río; Snoopy/ Michele Miyares. The English version of the project’s poster: Eric Silva.

 

Meanwhile, the list of Cuban characters/U.S. artists is made up by: Elpidio Valdés/ David Gallo; Matojo/ Jeff Kleinsmith; El Loquito de Nuez/ Sasha Barr; Cecilín y Coty/ Darin Shuler; El Bobo de Abela/ Eroyn Franklin; Yeyín/ Chelsea Wirtz; Fernanda/ Kelsey Gallo; Chuncha/ Carlos Ruiz; La Calabacita/ Jesse LeDoux; Capitán Plin/ Robynne Raye; La Criollita de Wilson/ Vannessa Blea; Pepito (from Vampiros en La Habana)/ Víctor Meléndez. The Spanish version of the project’s poster: Marianne Goldin.

 

The group of Cuban designers present in this – all of them with a career of great merit – participated during the 11th Havana Biennial in the project “herejeG. Urban tribes in Cuba,” under the curatorship of Yenela Miranda, demonstrating that they – the curator and the artists – were very attentive to the socio-cultural processes.

 

It’s not easy to deconstruct more than half a century of a tense discourse, of confrontation between opposite ideologies, but it already began on December 17, 2014. This contribution, from the artistic field, to the construction of a necessary new discourse has another significance: its exhibition in the public sphere during the 12th Havana Biennial as part of that mega event of the visual arts.

 

Knowing that the new discourse has to be created in keeping with its principles, the animators of the project have banished any symbolic reference that discredits its optimistic and friendly tone. Thus, the posters that were made represent Bart Simpson dressed as a Cuban schoolboy; the Bobo de Abela rests on the Malecón wall, while in the sea two (possible) U.S. characters dialogue; Bugs Bunny is fishing on that wall; and Chuncha smiles from Uncle Sam’s hat that is also a Cuban flag, and, in the background, the skyscrapers of the neighbouring country are joined to the houses on the island.

 

Faced by all this, the Loquito de Nuez is stunned by the information tide from the press and Mickey Mouse confesses speaking a bit of Spanish; but Little Lulu, scissors in hand, greets the opening; Betty Boop dances in Tropicana; and Capitán Plin gives the thumbs up saying “Aloha Cuba.”

 

The way in which the media (the official and others), on one side and the other of the Malecón, welcome and visualise this brilliant initiative, is part of the new path through which the Day of San Lázaro/Babalú Ayé has been travelling since last December.

 

Here, the Havana Malecón, that symbolic space that looks toward both sides, is a bridge and not a barrier, a link and not a wall, connecting the friendship between both peoples positioned in front of the separation. (2015)

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