Art and Necessity

Installation on the Havana Malecon for the XII Havana Biennial

Installation on the Havana Malecon for the XII Havana Biennial(14ymedio)

The man approaches and pulls a fork from the work Delicatessen that is being exhibited on the Havana Malecon during the XII Havana Biennial. Nearby, two neighbors speculate that, at the end of the event, the sand used in Resaca (Hangover) will be given to the surrounding residents to repair their homes. To art appreciation are added hardships and daring, incorporating the spectators into a show they want to make their own, by taking it home and reusing it.

The arrival of the Biennial to our city is a good time to enjoy the aesthetic surprises that await us around every corner, but it also confirms the collision of art and need. Near the artworks employing major material resources the inquisitive eyes of a guard are always watching. The protected works, with their “Don’t touch” signs or surrounded by closed perimeters, abound on sidewalks and in parks, more than they should. A contrast between the interaction sought by the artists who place their works in public spaces, and the excessive protection to which they are subjected, precisely so that this public doesn’t end up taking them away in their pockets, piece by piece.

The guard who prevents vandalism or looting also adds an ideological curator who ensures that no installation, performance or show deviates from the official script. A group of watchdogs of the artistically correct impeded Tania Bruguera from entering the Museum of Fine Arts at the end of last week. These censors of free creation also forced Gorki Aguila into a car, after preventing him from hanging the face of the graffiti artist El Sexto on the same walls where he had left us his indelible signature.

Need marks each work of art of the Havana Biennial. Material need, where a screw used in some pedestal could end up in the door of a home, or in a chair or even in the bed where four people sleep every night. And the other need, that of freedom, makes us approach the art to take for ourselves a piece of its rebellion, before the guard blows his whistle and we leave, empty handed.



117 thoughts on “Art and Necessity

  1. Theft is just one of many symptoms of a system and an economy that doesn’t work.
    This reminds me of the Chinese proverb about corruption, that when you kill the tigers, the flies disappear. When, in a not-too-distant future the system changes, the smaller problems go away…

  2. The more I hear about Dr Biscet, the more I like what I hear. Leaders with that pragmatic wisdom is what the world needs. It’s been proved over and over again that in places like Cuba, overt, extreme and eccentric action is beaten down swiftly…

  3. Sandokan: Dr Bicet’s comments: ““act moderately, impartially, and with firmness in the defense of our principles without falling into sectarian extremism, but always intransigent in regards to liberty, justice, and democracy for Cuba.” What principles is he talking about…can you post them…..liberty, justice and democracy are aligned with what I believe which can be achieved with no Helms Burton Act or/and the regime change law and a Socialist Democratic Republic that keeps the United States at “arms length” from Cuba.

  4. Dr. Biscet has called on fellow Cubans to “act moderately, impartially, and with firmness in the defense of our principles without falling into sectarian extremism, but always intransigent in regards to liberty, justice, and democracy for Cuba.” That, is what’s it’s all about. He is probably the foremost Cuban democracy activist, a symbol of the general resistance to the Castroit tyrannical regime.

  5. I disagree with Dr. Oscar Bicet when he writes: ” As a promoter of freedom for Cuba, I believe America’s policy of rapprochement with Castro’s communist dictatorship will only give the regime credibility and prolong its existence. The result, I believe, will be increased suffering for my compatriots.” Economic conditions in Cuba have improved since Raul Castro began rolling out the 2011 reforms. Cuba is no longer a Communist Country as defined by the Cold War struggle. Cuba is on the correct road of building a Socialist Democratic Republic. The United States is not a friend of Cuba. The United States policies towards Cuba during the entire 20th., Century have been policies of imperialism and abuse of might. Dr. Bicet, as an activist and many other groups of Cubans interested in regime change in Cuba today continue with the same mode of operandum of the early 20th., Century which was one of reliance on the United States for economic and political leverage or a “life line” to leverage change. This always has backfired with very, very, negative outcomes for the Cuban People. To have a truly Cuban led change, it has to be achieved with unity of the Cuban People and not with the aid of a foreign power. It is a classic mistake that has been committed all over the World over and over and over again. How can so many good Cuban people, like Mr. Bicet, who risk everything to defend what he believes (even though I don’t agree with him) look outside the country for a “life line” to support his believes, instead of earning support of other Cubans in the island. This strategy for change only makes him a proxy for the United States, a country who has written into law regime change in Cuba unconditionally in order to have normalized relations. Dr. Bicet asking for support to the United States makes him more of a traitor than an activist for reforms in the island nation. The majority of Cubans today support the creation of Socialist Democratic Republic. The recent elections demonstrate this. Out of 11.7 Million Cubans, less than 15% abstain from voting for many reasons ( Yoani published an article in 14ymedio leading the reader to believe that the entire 15% of the people that did not vote was because of support for regime change when in reality most of the people that did not vote was due to voter apathy.). The American People support a “hands off” policy in Cuba. Young Cuban Americans want a “hands off” Cuba policy. Only the Cuban Americans who are victims by virtue of being on the wrong side of history in 1959 want regime change in Cuba even though they do not have the unity of the Cuban People support for the change they would like to see. The dissidents in Cuba, like the jewish author of the book Tania Bruguera tried to read about Totalitarianism, were motivated to activism because of the 40% contraction of the Cuban economy a few years ago, compounded by the acts of terrorism based in the United States against the Cuban government. The Cuban government, for national security reasons was obligated to detain quite a large number of activists that were caught in the “twilight zone” of being proxy for the United States and patriotism demanding regime change.. This was the true catalyst behind their desired for regime change. Freedom of Speech and multi-party democratic process is the demanded political structural changes they would like to see to facilitate regime change. The fundamental problem is that if Cubans get Freedom of Speech and a multi-party political system; at least one of the new political parties will ask for a “life line” to the United States to win the reins of government. Turning Cuba once again into a “lap dog” of the United States. Unity of the Cuban People is the only option to regime change and the Unity of the Cuban People today is behind building a Socialist Democratic Republic in Cuba.

  6. Thanks for the comment about stolen mail, Jesus

    This happens, because Cuba is too soft on crime. I don’t like it, I protest it and I think the Communist Party makes a mistake here. Those who are for longer sentences for theft and death penalty for larger corruption crimes deserve all out support of Cuban voters.

    Until then the solution is sending money. Money gets delivered, the system protects the consumer better. And you will save money because it costs less to send $1000 in cash then the merchandise of the same value.

  7. Everyone knows that mail is stolen in Cuba. A few years ago I wanted to send my Spanish teacher a gift. She told me not to bother, she would NEVER receive it.

    Recently in Havana I wanted to leave a lot of clothes for my room maid. I was leaving at 6am but she didn’t start til 8. I said no problem I’ll leave them in the room with a note and your name on it. She was horrified and said she would never get them and someone would take them. We conspired together that I should hide everything under the mattress. Which I did. This would be the only country in the world where I would have to do this. What a sad place.

  8. I am writing about something very simple, but with huge implications. Every single Cuban citizen in talking these days about the oncoming change in the island; however, we have a long way until we can see some light at the end of the tunnel. I have many reasons to say that, but just take a simple and less complicated of the many: MAIL. Several years ago, we got a little improvement, when it comes to mail, now we can send 4 pounds via USPS, at a very high cost, but its still OK, more over if we can send some items periodically. Here is when problems arise; I have been sending packages regularly, and I have to tell that those packages rarely get there with all the items that I send. One day it was a cellular phone that I sent to my nephew as a birthday gift, another day it was an ointment for ophthalmic infection that disappeared mysteriously, and so on. Recently I send a little coffee thermo to my mother, as a mother’s day gift, along with some chocolates, and both items disappeared; the difference is that now we HAVE a name: DAVID FLORES PEREZ. This individual apparently have a position as a receptionist of incoming packages from USA and other countries, and a claim from my family goes always to him, as a responsible person. Many people now will say, this is a minor incident if you consider the Cuban change and bla bla bla, but if this is happening with something so simple as a mail package (which is not taken lightly in USA, where this is a felony), what is going to happen when entrepreneurs from all around the world try to invest money in the decadent Cuban economy?????. I am sure that, even a person with average intelligence will see that nobody will put a penny in Cuba, or wherever things like this happen every day. Think about it, we are considering big things when the infrastructure is still a dream.

  9. This is the first time I hear about Dr Biscet. The story about his life is really powerful!
    I can’t begin to pretend to understand the suffering that he and too many others get subjected to.
    However, I would like to present a different view. Pres. Obama isn’t stupid. He’s going through the formal motions in order to help bring about the change that Cuba needs. Politicians do this all the time, they do things they don’t want to do in order to achive somthing else. Changing the “terror list status” was probably a step further than the prez wanted to go.
    Also, this process is like when starting an engine that hasn’t run in a long time, it splutters.
    The process isn’t perfect, but time will tell if the Obama strategy works or not…

  10. China owning that much US debt, and in general the economic interdependence between the two, is the best guarantee that they won’t hurt each other. They’re the perfect “frenemies”…

  11. The comparison between Cuba and Burma/Myanmar is interesting and relevant, but there is an important difference: In Burma private wealth is allowed. The generals are still in power, but soon everybody in Burma has a cell phone, like in the rest of the world. Cuba and North Korea are the exceptions in that regard…

  12. Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet is a black Cuban physician and anti-abortion activist promoter of non-violent civil disobedience. No doubt that a new Cuba will emerge, and brave men such a Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet will lead the way to move forward from the Castros tyranny to a free and democratic government. His suffering will not have been in vain. He is smart and has a lot of following. He could be the leader that brings together the different opposition groups and a peaceful transition of power in the island.

  13. Only Cubans can make Cuba free

    Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet • | June 3, 2015 | 12:01 am

    HAVANA, CUBA — In recent months, the United States has taken steps to recognize the regime of Raul Castro as the legitimate government of Cuba. These steps evince a lack of knowledge of the totalitarian nature of the regime.

    Many Americans do not know the extent of the human rights violations committed by the Castro dictatorship. The Castros’ victims do not number in the millions like those of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. But their despotic essence is the same.

    I can attest that those who work for human rights and democracy in Cuba still receive cruel and inhumane treatment, including torture. Despite the fact that the U.S. removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, the regime continues to terrorize its people, and to harbor terrorists from other countries, including the U.S.

    I know that government agents spy on me and my family, as well as many other human rights supporters on the island. Here we live with few freedoms. There is no free press, no privacy, no freedom of association. We live within a system that stifles human dignity.

    A new report finds that the majority of female journalists cover education, health, lifestyle and religion.

    Let me briefly tell you my story. I am 53 years old. As a young man, I was studious and hard-working. I never had problems with the law. I was working as a physician in Havana when I investigated and exposed Cuban abortion techniques in which babies were being killed after being delivered alive. For the crime of “disrespect,” I was sent to prison.

    Later, in 1999, after hanging a Cuban flag upside down in protest, I was given a three-year sentence for the crime of “disrespecting patriotic symbols.” Fidel Castro publicly gave the order to lock me up, telling a television audience that I was insane and needed treatment. The treatment was jail and torture, including many weeks in punishment cells and solitary confinement.

    Upon my release, I began publicly advocating for human rights and democracy, which led to more time in prison. In 2002, I was sentenced to 25 years in prison during Cuba’s notorious “Black Spring,” in which 90 journalists and human rights advocates were imprisoned.

    I was released in 2011, along with more than 50 other political dissidents in an agreement negotiated with the Catholic Church in Cuba. Most of the other prisoners were forcibly exiled from the country, but I refused to leave. I live here in Havana with my dear wife, Elsa, who, along with my children, has borne the brunt of my poor treatment and absence.
    I am grateful to the God of the Bible for giving me strength and wisdom during my most difficult moments, including when I was tortured in prison and became very sick. I am also grateful to all the Cubans and people around the world who stand in solidarity with me and with all Cubans who seek freedom.

    As a promoter of freedom for Cuba, I believe America’s policy of rapprochement with Castro’s communist dictatorship will only give the regime credibility and prolong its existence. The result, I believe, will be increased suffering for my compatriots.

    It is impossible to empower the individual within a totalitarian dictatorship. History reveals as much in the examples of communist China and Vietnam. We see that in those countries, economic liberalization has not led to more political rights or freedoms for citizens.

    Long before the U.S. began thinking about a new approach toward Cuba, I launched the Emilia Project. Emilia is the name of the first Cuban woman banished from the country for political reasons. The project involves using nonviolent resistance to secure basic human rights, democracy and freedom for the people of Cuba.

    I know that Americans want the best for Cuba, and there is a role for America to play in helping Cubans secure their freedom. But some of the recent policy changes will only make it more difficult for Cubans to bring about the future they deserve. Ultimately, of course, it is the Cuban people who must claim our liberty and establish our democracy. Only then will Cuba be free.
    Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet is a physician and human rights advocate living in Havana. He is president of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights. While in prison in 2007, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His piece has been translated from Spanish by the editors.

  14. yskls: The Cuban government does not need art to legitimize their vision for Cuba. Art in Cuba, like any other place in the World is mainly for enjoyment and pleasure. Only activists who happen to be artists use it for political reasons, like Tania Bruguera.

    Art brings beauty into our world. Art is important because it makes our world a better place. It also brings a sense of enjoyment and pleasure.

    Art allows for the expression of truth and beliefs. Some art challenges our beliefs. Other works affirm our faith. Art is an important tool in causing us to examine our beliefs in light of an artists’ rendition or perception of truth.

    Art has the ability to transport us to a different time and place. It allows us to gain historical perspective and understanding. Art allows us to appreciate different periods in history and their impact and significance in our world.

    Art immortalizes people, places, and events. Artists create a visual record of life experiences commemorating the memorable and challenging social injustices, such as slavery and abuses, in time. Artists serve as historians in this role, documenting life on canvass, photography, or sculpture. Art may be used to express chaos and misunderstanding, or to establish order from what appears to be chaos. Art helps us organize our world. It is one means by which we understand our society and culture, and the society and cultures of others. Art is important as an intellectual stimulant. A good artist advances culture and civilization by provoking thought, introspection, and discussion.

    Art triggers emotions. Subject, color, and texture are used by artist to evoke feelings. In this way art can serve as a catharsis, or help us uncover feelings of which we were previously unaware.

    Art has the intrinsic ability to elevate the commonplace. It lifts the viewer beyond the confines of reality and into another world, such as the use of art to express fantasy. Sometimes art provides pure escapism, such as cartoons and comics. Other art allows us to juxtapose fantasy and reality, creating a world in which the artist wished we lived.
    So…Tania Bruguera reading of the book on Totalitarianism:
    1. Is it an intellectual stimulant???…………no is a book written in 1951 and the world is different today…
    2. Reading of this book does it advances culture and civilization????…no… only tells the point of view of ONE person who is NOT AN EXPERT in governance…and is only telling us about the authors opinions without scientific basis….in other words, it is a great work of literature, but, it is not a book that can be used to teach political science.
    3. Does the reading of this book evokes feeling of which we were previously unaware???….no….people are very much aware of what centralized governments look like, specially in Cuba.
    4. Does the reading of this book elevates the commonplace????…….centralized government is the reality of the Cuban People.
    5. Does the reading of this book provides escapism???………it describes the extremism of centralized government….


  15. Ok, I’m the self-appointed Explainer in Chief here in this community. Go ahead, condescend all you want. I’ve been around a while, and around the block a few times, so I can take it.
    However – trying to be serious – I want to make another observation about what art is: Art means different things to different people. Castristas probably think that the Biennial gives them legitimacy. Most Cubans probably think that it’s elitist nonsense using stuff that they need in that way. The foreign visitors, more than ever before I hope, have gone home and can tell the world about ¡socialismo y muerte!
    It was so good to hear that recently the message was delivered in Norway, because that’s a bastion of the Sofa Socialist Lalaland dwellers…

  16. Omar Fundora’s comments about
    are interesting, but not too important for the future of Cuba.

    First, he will never become Republican candidate. Not because Raul doesn’t like him, but because most Republicans don’t want him.

    But even if he gets to the White House – so what? Let him take that ambassador out of Havana. Cuba would then be wise to double its staff in Beijing. China is the place where the smart people go to learn and to trade.

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