This year it is especially difficult to see the Havana
Biennial solely as an art event, completely neutral, without the context
of the conditions in Cuba. Both its preparation and how it is perceived
internationally have been seriously affected by the increasing gravity
of the political situation.
The reports circulating in the months before the 8th Havana Biennial
were primarily negative: the harsh action taken by the Cuban government
against members of the opposition, its escalating confrontation course
toward the European Union , the nullification
of sponsoring agreements by European foundations 
and then the censorship of texts on works by two artists, who after
which canceled their participation.
According to official announcements, this biennial was saved because
the Cuban government stepped in with 156,000 US Dollars from its own
funds, supposedly the entire budget. But even in Cuba, this would not
have come close to being enough for an international event such as this.
The greatest share – as with previous biennials – once again
had to be furnished by the artists themselves. They had to cover costs
for the production of their works, transportation, airfare, accommodations,
etc. Moreover, the catalog was paid for by a European institution.
Though the international art scene did not appear in such great number
this year, the state’s input may have nevertheless reaped a good
return. Foreigners who came solely for the biennial (1,500 to 2,000
according to our estimates, far more than half of which from the USA)
dropped a tidy sum in Cuba for hotels, meals, etc. Added to this is
the Cuban art which was once again sold en masse in the city’s
galleries and studios, and for impressive prices.
Be that as it may, the 8th Havana Biennial was an important international
art event. With our tour (which, by the way, we once again financed
ourselves), using selected works, we aim to convey an impression of
the exhibitions to everyone who either could not or did not want to
travel there, but are nonetheless interested.
One asks oneself, though, how things are to continue
with the Havana Biennial. Though there was a roundtable discussion at
the forum regarding biennials in general, this aspect was not brought
up. Art from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean can now be
found at many international art events, so that this focus alone –
commendable as it was in the beginning – is no longer a sufficient
concept. Even the opening up beyond such a geographic framework failed
to bring this year’s biennial any noticeable artistic gain. More
curatorial stringency or a more sustainable idea will be necessary
for the future. But this year more than ever, we had the impression that for the Biennial - like the people of Cuba itself - it's above all about survival...
Pat Binder and Gerhard Haupt
Editors of Universes in Universe
1 November -
15 December 2003
Centro de Arte
Team of specialists from the Centro Wifredo Lam
Overview of information, Program
City map, photos, texts
Press release of the organizer