The Havana Biennial: An Opening for U.S.-Cuba Cultural Exchange
Lorraine Monteagut, contributing blogger
May is here, and the Projecting pARTicles team is gearing up for its journey to the 12th Havana Biennial. It’s truly a historic time in U.S.-Cuba relations. Last December, President Obama announced his intention to ease sanctions imposed against Cuba under the half-century-long embargo. And last month, he met with Raul Castro during the Summit of the Americas in Panama, which marked the first time leaders of Cuba and the U.S. have convened since 1959. There is much left to negotiate—U.S. tourism to Cuba is still prohibited, for instance— but the pathways to cultural exchange between the two nations are already opening, as evidenced by U.S. artists’ involvement in the Biennial.
On May 22, the Projecting pARTicles team will participate in a collective exhibit, “Between, Inside, Outside,” which will examine fringe experiences created by political tensions between Cuba and the U.S. and demonstrate how artistic expression can dissolve the barriers that separate us. The projects in the exhibit are participatory, trans-disciplinary, and process-oriented, representing different perspectives of reality coming together in an interactive space of human communion.
Artist Agnes Chavez is a first-generation U.S. citizen born to Cuban immigrants. The Projecting pARTicles installation, Origination Point, draws from her experience straddling two worlds. She says, “In this piece I contemplate both my origins as a Cuban American and humanity’s shared ‘subatomic’ origins to express that we are more than the physical bodies and socio-cultural identities we construct.” I’m eager to observe and assist with this project, as I too am a child of a Cuban immigrant, and I’m the first in my family to “go back.” I’ve long been aware of the tension between the old world of my ancestry and my family’s new life in the U.S., and as a result, I’ve inhabited an “in- between” space full of imaginings of my ancestors’ past and hopes for the future of the Cuban people.
So much has already changed for me since this opening: back in December, shortly after President Obama made his first announcement, Agnes called me to ask if I’d be interested in participating in the Biennial. We are fourth cousins, but we are separated by thousands of miles, and we have never met. We will meet in person for the first time—in Havana, no less!
It’s been a surreal experience, witnessing this opening between our worlds. We represent the many Cuban Americans who are eager to heal the rift of the past and participate in the new wave of U.S.-Cuba relations. This will not be an easy path, and many challenges await, but I believe art has the power to bridge great distances, and through our art, we may learn how to reestablish relationships and create beautiful new ways of communing with our fellow humans.
Stay tuned as we report from the Havana Biennial!
Lorraine Monteagut is a Ph.D. candidate in Communication at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Follow her summer travels: roguegeographer.wordpress.com