Tito Zungu (1939-2000)
By Virginia McKenny
Tito Zungu was one of the quiet lights of the KwaZulu Natal art scene. A light that manifest itself in jewel-like embellishments of abstracted buildings, aeroplanes, radios and ships. A man of deep religious conviction who always prepared himself before he began his work by communing with 'higher Powers', Zungu had a joyous spirituality that he openly shared with others. In his work this communicated itself not so much through his subject matter, but rather through his lovingly worked surfaces. Dense markings and stipplings of ballpoint and felt pen indicate an intimate attention that speaks of the value of every detail in God's world much as the 15th century Flemish artists the Van Eyck brothers or the Indian miniaturists might have done.
A subsistence farmer living in the rural area of Mapumolo for most of his life he supported himself working as a cook when he lived in the city. His early works, produced during the late 50s and early 60s, made on the backs of envelopes for himself and the community of migrant labourers around him, initially sold for a penny. Now collectors items, likely to rise even more sharply in value since his death, such works grace the portfolios of many major museums. One of the first of these to collect his work in the early 70s was the Durban Art Gallery. Whilst his first solo show was in Johannesburg at the Wits University Gallery* in 1982 and he was included in a number of international shows (Art from South Africa, MOMA Oxford (1990), the XLV Venice Bienniale (1993) and the Southern Cross, Stedelijk, Amsterdam (1993)) it was in Durban in 1997 that he was accorded a retrospective. Complete with full-colour catalogue this exhibition he dedicated to the late Jo Thorpe of the African Art Centre whom he valued as a close friend and who had first brought his work to the attention of the art world. Included in this show were coloured lithographs on a much larger scale than the envelopes. Produced with the aid of Greg Hayes' Stepping Stone Press, these afforded Zungu the opportunity to sell more widely and establish himself in an economically viable position.
Tito's work forms a bridge between people and cultures - the works themselves are often reminiscent of traditional African design found in textiles, basket work, beadwork and Zulu earplugs yet they depict mainly Western, man-made technology. Colin Richards, in his essay for the retrospective catalogue, points out that Tito's work seems to be 'founded in the impulse to communicate'. Not only is it done on the very container/carrier of communication between people (envelopes and letters) it also depicts modes of transport (ships and aeroplanes) and means of broadcast (radios) which signal transmission of news and ideas and which promise interchange between people.
Tito Zungu in his own life seemed to generate such interchanges. He died on the 11th January in the presence of his friends Andries Botha and Gillian King shortly after they had collected him from hospital. He was buried by his community on the 15th, much mourned by all who knew him or his work.
A detail of the pm inc. construction at the Mark Coetzee Fine Art Cabinet on Art Night
A balmy evening with a live band playing outside the AVA galleries in the Church Street Mall made for a highly enjoyable Art Night on Monday, January 25. Karin Dando and Ismael Thyssen launched shows at the AVA, and at the top of the street, Mark Coetzee showed a fine selection of contemporary stuff, with a video by Clive van den Berg, and a white silken inflatable construction by Luan Nel. "Tell the others, before it's too late' was the message of a pm inc. construction in the small gallery - a witty advertisement, and art piece in itself, for a forthcoming pm inc. event.
The big disappointment of the evening was that Tom Cullberg's Featherdome , a promised highlight, had been badly damaged by movers after its appearance at the Gay Millennium party, and could not be installed. But the hundreds of people who turned up for the evening seemed to be enjoying the gentle strolling, dancing, eating, drinking , antiquing and art viewing very much anyway.
Maria Fernanda Cardoso
Cementerio - Vertical Garden, 1992
Bill Richmond, The Black Terror, 1999
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
New York New York - a curator's reportback
By Emma Bedford
No-one could be more surprised than I was to find myself in New York in the week before Christmas, ostensibly to discuss exciting future projects that will showcase South African visual arts internationally. In meetings, exchanging ideas about strategies, choices and approaches, I couldn't help reflecting on some of the recent shows of South African art abroad in order to assess how we might build on their successes while avoiding their pitfalls. My thoughts obviously turned to 'Liberated Voices', at the Museum for African Art. What to make of these national shows? While there were highlights to enjoy and an extensive education programme to delve into, the exhibition, in my opinion, suffered from a lack of curatorial rigour. But on the upside, SA art gets exposure and some artists get to travel. Who can quibble with that?
In comparison, the exhibition of Brazilian artist, Cildo Meireles at the New Museum of Contemporary Art next door was easily my favourite. Yes, comparisons are odious and one can't really compare shows curated on a different scale with varying resources but in terms of reward this scored high points in my book. Organised by Dan Cameron and Gerardo Mosquera, it is described as "the latest in the New Museum's continuing series of exhibitions of pioneer artists working outside the United States". Senior Curator, Dan Cameron, is one of a group of curators with whom I've been liaising on a major show of William Kentridge's work which we should see at the SANG one of these years, provided we can raise the funds. If the Meireles show is anything to go by, we're in for a treat.
Rigorously conceived, the show presented a range of Meireles's works that refer both to the mechanics of perception and to events subsequent to the imposition of military dictatorship in Brazil during the 1960s. One of these, undertaken in response to the murder of a journalist, begins with the installation of a seemingly ordinary interior rendered entirely in red and leads on to what might be the crime scene, taking the visitor from apparent normalcy into the terror of violence under an oppressive regime. The documentary video on the mezzanine provided a useful context within which to view and understand the artist's work and comprehensive wall texts offer insights into individual works. The museum building with its open plan is a beautiful space in which one wants to linger and the bookshop stocks a wide selection of wonderful art books. Mmmm � altogether a very pleasing museum experience. (On view until March 15) And if a little shopping's what you're after, the Armani Exchange across the road offers off-the-peg designer desirables at affordable prices. Yeah, in dollars maybe but in my rueful rands - hardly.
New York is, like most other places, awash with large-scale millennial survey shows. Of these, 'The American Century Part II 1950 - 2000' at the Whitney takes the cake. Yum yum. (On view until February 13) Exploring how American artists have portrayed the changing identity of the USA over the last century, this second part was particularly fascinating. From Willem de Kooning via Lorna Simpson to Matthew Barney, four floors of stunning art works and parallel cultural sites led one through the decades in a comprehensive but manageable way.
By comparison MOMA's 'Modern Starts: People, Places and Things' is too big and too encyclopedic to be absorbed in one visit. Nevertheless I found plenty to interest me in the short time I had at my disposal. The thrill of coming upon that famous fa�ade again was trebled at seeing it enhanced by Shirin Neshat's banner showing a woman's face inscribed with Islamic script. Not only does it acknowledge Neshat, who garnered one of the top awards at the Venice Biennale last year, but it sensitises one to the absence of Muslim imagery and culture in America other than in the most brutal media stereotypes. I was pleased and affirmed to discover right at the start of the show, Martha Rosler's Semiotics of the Kitchen, a work I had featured in my Johannesburg Biennale exhibition in 1995. (Rosler's solo survey show will be on view at the New Museum of Contemporary Art from June 13 - October 18, 2000.) Doris Salcedo's cemented cupboard and Maria Fernanda Cardoso's vertical garden of white flowers were eloquent elegies for punctured dreams both within the political and domestic spheres of their native Latin America and elsewhere. Bill Viola's Hatsu Yume (First Dream) using light as a medium is the most exquisitely beautiful video I have ever seen. (Closes on March 14)
The Dia Centre for the Arts had several shows on its four floors including Stan Douglas and Douglas Gordon's Double Vision video installation and Robert Irwin's very beautiful neon-articulated rooms. Dan Graham's Rooftop Urban Park Project allowed a breathless 360 degree view of the New York night sky which was made even more magical by the Christmas lights.
There is much to see in the surrounding Chelsea area. The Glen Ligon and Kara Walker show at Brent Sikkema is of particular interest, dealing as they do with stereotypes of race and sex. Andreas Gursky's gargantuan photos at Matthew Marks Gallery are astonishing. Of course, I couldn't help being lured into the new Comme de Garcon shop with its seductive hi-tech tunnel leading into that emporium of covetable clothing. But my funny money was even less likely to help me acquire anything here.
The 57th Street area is also well worth a visit. 'Picture This: New Representational Painting' at Associated American Artists included the work of Ghanaian-born Godfried Donkor who explores historical imagery of slaves counterpoised against the British aristocracy of the period.
'SENSATION: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection' is still causing a sensation at the Brooklyn Museum. After attempts by New York's mayor to close it down on the ground's that Chris Ofili's black Madonna (with the much-maligned elephant dung) was sacriligeous, the work was defaced by an offended catholic who hurled white paint at it. Fortunately, swift action by the conservators saw the work restored in no time.
I had several meetings including one with John Peffer who, with Lauri Firstenberg, is curating 'Translation/Seduction/Displacement: photographic and postconceptual art by artists from Southern Africa' scheduled for White Box on W26th Street in February. Meetings with the editors of NKA: Journal of Contemporary Art were very successful. And of course there was a party or two. Coco Fusco through a fabulous party at her home where amongst the crowd of glitterati including Tracy Moffatt, were Berni Searle, Moshekwa Langa, Tumelo Mosaka and Lisa Brice. Great to see South African artists and curators making it abroad. A formal dinner at Gary van Wyk's Axis Gallery provided the occasion for meeting several interesting people including Anthony Korner, publisher of Artforum. And it was good to see the London- based Sunil Gupta at his opening in Chelsea. My grateful thanks go to the funders who made it possible for me to travel.
South African Art in the Nineties: Part I, II & III|
By Sue Williamson
So quickly does time pass, that it is almost a surprise to realise that on the first day of the nineties, January 1, although noises were being made about the possible release of Nelson Mandela, few knew whether this would really happen, or what might result if it did. Instant assassination or re-arrest of the people's hero were two possibilities seriously discussed. Certainly the unbanning of the ANC was not anticipated. The art scene was still firmly in thrall to the cultural boycott, which restricted South African artists from showing overseas, and overseas artists from showing here. The big national showcase for South African art was still the Cape Town Triennial. Individual achievement was being recognised by the Standard Bank Young Artist Award, given to an artist under the age of 40, which gave the winner a show in the Monument Theatre at the Grahamstown Festival, accompanied by a catalogue. The 1989 Young Artist was Mmakgoba Helen Sebidi, still referred to at that time by her last two names only, and the 1990 joint winners were Fee Halsted Berning and Bonnie Ntshalintshali. The other large prize was more regional - the Vita Art Award was given for the best exhibition in Johannesburg in any one year - in 1991, Karel Nel was the Vita Award Winner. My book. Resistance Art in South Africa, (David Philip Publishers) had been launched at the end of 1989, grouping contemporary artists alongside the street artists and T-shirt designers in an attempt to give form to a previously undocumented aspect of the country's art scene.
The following year, 1991, was to see the last of the Cape Town Triennials. Initiatives by artists' groups like the Visual Arts Group in Cape Town and the Artists Alliance in Johannesburg to democratise the patriarchal patronage systems which dominated the national scene led to heavy criticisms of the way the sponsors, the Rembrandt Van Rijn Art Foundation, attempted to control the Triennial. The exhibition poster issued by the Foundation's publicity department featured not an artwork but a huge blowup of the company logo. Reportbacks from all the regional judging panels raised a number of other contentious issues, like the unfairness of a system which privileged certain art-educated artists above those not so privileged. It was suggested that a good portion of the prize money should be channelled into a workshop component. Stung by the criticisms and by clashes with the South African National Gallery administration under the directorship of Marilyn Martin, Rembrandt abruptly announced that there would be no further sponsorship.
The Triennial catalogue, unlike today's full colour publications, was in black and white. Colour was reserved for the three winning entries: the Rembrandt gold medal went to William Kentridge, for his video, Sobriety, obestity and getting old. Sandra Kriel won a merit award for her embroidered panels, Why are you afraid? on the subject of the role of women in the struggle, Willie Bester, who had had his first one-person exhibition the previous year, won the second for his collage painting, Crossroads, and the third went to Russell Scott, for his construction O.N.C.O.. Installation art as a form was almost unknown. By and large, traditional forms of artmaking dominated the selections: painting, sculpture and printmaking, though Neville Hoad exhibited a conceptual piece, a found piece of cardboard crudely lettered in black koki reading PLEASE.HELP.ME.NO.JOBS.NO.FOOD.EVERYONE HELP ME under the title The limitations of Social Realism.
Sculptor Andries Botha won the Standard Bank Young Artist Award in 1991, combining wood, metal and rubber amongst other materials in his large scale sculptural tableaux. At the end of that year, I was honoured to be the first South African to be included in a post-apartheid biennale when my piece documenting the pages of one man's pass book, For Thirty Years Next to His Heart, was included on the Fourth Havana Biennial in Cuba.
The commercial gallery scene in the early nineties was dominated by the Goodman Gallery under the directorship of Linda Givon in Johannesburg, and the Gallery International under the almost equally formidable Esther Rousso in Cape Town. These two vied to show the leading artists, with the galleries of the South African Association of Arts in Cape Town, Pretoria, and in Durban, the Natal Society of Arts taking up the slack. The Market Theatre in downtown Johannesburg prided itself on showing more risky and cutting edge stuff, and elsewhere in the city, one of the first alternative galleries of note, the F.I.G. - the Famous International Gallery - opened its doors at the corner of Troye and Jeppe Streets in 1990, founded by Wayne Barker and Morris la Mancha. Ricky Burnett, who had broken new curatorial ground with his 'Tributaries' exhibition which placed art objects previously regarded as craft next to so-called high art pieces in his 1985 exhibition, thus setting a trend for such shows, opened the doors of the Newtown Galleries opposite the Market Theatre in 1991. FUBA, the Federated Union of Black Artists was right next door, a flea market held every Saturday drew huge crowds to the area, and at that time, the precinct was a lively hub of creative energy.
William Kentridge & Doris Bloom
By 1992, South Africa was clearly on the road to its first democratic election, and the beginning of 1993 brought a belated invitation to the 45th Venice Biennale to be opened in June of that year. It was the first time South Africa would be represented at this significant international exhibition in 27 years. Selection was entrusted to the South African Association of Arts under the presidency of Louis Jansen van Vuuren. Countries at the Biennale are usually represented by one or at most, three artists, but in 1993, South Africa, in an attempt to be as representative as possible, sent the work of no less than 27 artists. The most important selections, showing in the Italian Pavilion in the Giardini di Castello, were , visionary sculptor Jackson Hlungwane and fabric artist Sandra Kriel. Ceramicist Bonnie Ntshalintshali was selected for 'Aperto', generally regarded to be the cutting edge of the Biennale, and 24 more artists could be seen at the Palazzo Giustinian Lolin. Though no State funding was available for participating artists to attend, most of the white artists made the trip. Too late, the organisers realised there would not be a single black artist at the opening, and sent a hurried message to Jackson Hlungwane that an air ticket would be made available to him. Carving away on his hillside in the far north of the country, Hlungwane declined, sending back this classic reply: "The message is good, but the radio is bad."
Off the beaten track in Venice the auxilliary exhibition might have been, but enough curious visitors found their way there to send out the message: "South Africa is back in the game." And then, too, Christopher Till, Director of Culture for the city of Johannesburg, chose the event to make known to the world that Johannesburg was in fact planning its own Biennale, less than two years in the future, and would be looking for the full support of the international art world in this venture. The idea had been the brainchild of Lorna Ferguson, ex director of Maritzburg's Tatham Gallery, and Ferguson and Till were to become partners in planning and selling the first Johannesburg Biennale to the world.
With the dawning of 1994, with the first democratic election now clearly in view, what better way for an international art person to get a piece of the new action than to go and see what was happening in that little bit of Africa until so recently in the political wasteland? Under the tutelage of AICA, the Africus Institute of Contemporary Art, funded by the city of Johannesburg, curators and museum people from around the world began making the trip down south. The premise of the first Biennale was to invite leading curators from a number of countries to put together shows involving their own artists with local selections. For instance, French curator Jean Hubert Martin's selections included Christian Boltanski, Thomas Hirschorn, and local artist Ian Waldeck. South African curators included Kendell Geers, who snared such international luminaries as Janine Antoni and Ilya Kabakov, and Emma Bedford, curating an all South African show under the title 'Objects of Defiance, Spaces of Contemplation.' On the Fringe, Wayne Barker scored something of a coup with a show entitled 'Laager' - a ring of shipping containers with one artist to transform each space. 'Laager' was set up in the open space between two of the main hubs of the Biennale, the old Electric Workshop, dramatically transformed for its new role as art venue, and the MuseumAfrica. The show was vibrant enough to elicit an invitation to the artists to restage the show in Chile.
Another of the successful aspects of this Biennale was a programme which looked at redressing the abysmal lack of young curatorial skills in the country - each host curator took on one young South African as an intern, a programme which has led to the development of such talents as Clive Kellner and Tumela Mosaka.
Of course, within the country, not everyone was in favour of the Biennale in the first place. To many it seemed that at a time when overseas funding for local community art projects was drying up (the battle against the State being seen as won), that the vast expenditure needed to bring a Biennale into being could have been much better spent building up grassroots skills and initiatives. The elite are catering for the elite, ran this argument. Our people do not even have the money for the most basic art materials. We cannot afford this kind of grandiose gesture. Countering this, Christopher Till would continue to point out over the next few years that for the powerful international art vistors who came to Johannesburg especially for the occasion, it was an education into the situation here, and that any number of the large and small exhibitions and art opportunities which arose for South African artists in the following years could be traced back directly to the Biennale.
And what was happening on the collection front? In 1992, in a special issue of the City of Johannesburg, South Africa's only art journal of note at the time, ADA, Art Design Architecture, had this to say under the heading of Corporate Art: "As the commercial centre of South Africa, Johannesburg is home to many corporate head offices, and the base for their art collections, some of which date back to the 30's. Serious collecting with business of shareholder money is a relatively new area of investment. Even so, a number of corporations prefer to remain silent about their activity, believing that public knowledge of expenditure on fine art assets will anger the trade unions. In terms of visible involvement in the arts, several big businesses come to mind: The Rembrandt Foundation (based in Cape Town and Stellenbosch), The Standard Bank of SA and Sasol".
Thanks in no small way to one of South Africa's most visible artists, Kendell Geers, this modest approach to corporate collection was about to change.
Willem Boshoff with Psephos 1995
An image of Ernest Cole's
In 1994, the Johannesburg mining house Gencor appointed Geers as art consultant, with a brief to build up a corporate collection, giving him a restricted budget but what amounted to a free artistic rein. The core of the collection, installed in the lift lobbies, consisted of ten works embodying the spirit of the new dispensation by such artists as Willem Boshoff, Willie Bester, Durant Sihlali and Penny Siopis. Dozens more works hang on the passage walls. As the chairman of Gencor was to write in the catalogue, published in 1997, "One day, early last year, I found a group of unskilled labourers �in animated argument around the Trevor Makhoba work that hangs in room 477. Never had this happened around the pastoral scenes of our earlier era. Perhaps that is the real measure of good art - Everyman cannot avoid involvement." In recent years, Gencor's example has led to the foundation of other progressive art collections by such companies as MNet and Vodacom.
Overall, the promotion of South African art has always been kept back by weak infrastructure and a chronic shortage of money. Take the case of art journals. Documentation of the country's art activities at the beginning of the nineties resided in the quarterly magazine of the SA Association of Arts, distributed free to members, which limited itself to reportage on activities and artists related to its galleries, and ADA magazine an extremely handsome publication which in spite of winning an award as best magazine in the country, came out at long irregular intervals, never managing to convince advertisers to buy sufficient space to guarantee its survival in the market place. The last issue of ADA was to appear in the mid nineties. In 1993, the country's most highly respected art critic, Ivor Powell of the then Weekly Mail, became editor of a new publication which would supersede the old SAAA Calendar: Ventilator. A promising first issue with great design and well written articles met an enthusiastic reception from the art world. But the same problem - lack of advertising money to finance publication - would force the closure of Ventilator after the launch issue. ArtThrob, the monthly magazine on contemporary art first went online in August 1997 and is now updated weekly, but not until 1999 would there be another attempt at the launch of a printed art journal. This time, the question of money would be sidestepped by garnering sufficient sponsorship to distribute the magazine free. Co@rtnews, under the editorship of Clive Kellner and Fernando Alvim, considers culture in the entire African continent, and has now produced its second issue.
But to get back to the artists and the work that they make. How has this developed in this decade of radical societal change? Following world trends, artists began quite early in the decade to utilise such forms as installation art, and that favoured form of the international art world, video, is slowly taking hold. In 1999, one of the first all-video shows, Channel, was curated by Robert Weinek at the Association for Visual Arts in Cape Town, featuring a number of video installations by such artists as Malcolm Payne, Bridget Baker and Stephen Hobbs, and a row of monitors with looped contributions from many more artists.
To discuss shifts in the way in which artists have attempted to deal with the transformative aspects of the new society is far more complex, and beyond the scope of a brief overview. It was this aspect of course: just how artists were dealing with the new dispensation, that captured the attention of a number of curators, both South African and international. Stimulated by the first and second Johannesburg Biennales and a sense of breaking virgin ground, a large number of survey type group shows were curated into being. One only has to look at the titles of these shows to sense the thrust of their curatorial intentions: Colours (1996), Don't Mess with Mr In-Between (1997), Passages (1997), Rewind Fast Forward .ZA (1999), Emergence, (1999), Liberated Voices, (1999). Inevitably, the quality of these shows varied. While many seem to have met with a measure of critical acclaim abroad, a reading of those foreign reviews is revealing. One finds a distance, a careful attention to political correctness, a desire to applaud the initiative, a sometimes quaint linking of the news of the show to such information as the fact that Michael Jackson is househunting in South Africa. Closer to home, critics, notably Brenda Atkinson of the Mail & Guardian, the country's most highly regarded newspaper, have become increasingly vociferous in their cutting analysis of these shows. The main criticism is that lack of curatorial rigour and attempts by curators to be too inclusive, too broad, too representative of the demographic situation within the country have resulted in a kaleidoscopic rather than a focussed look at the subject. Nonetheless, it must not be forgotten that to foreign audiences, these shows have often served as an enlightening and absorbing introduction to the art of a country of which they knew almost nothing.
Editor's note: This subject has proved too large for the three instalments originally envisaged. The series will continue next week, and look at the 'post-apartheid kids', the second Biennale and its aftermath, and the role of museums in the nineties.
pm inc event
Look like someone who cares - pm inc.
Sometimes life presents us with experiences which are to be enjoyed without delving too deeply for significance. On a hot night at the end of December in a cinema in the crass Golden Acre shopping centre, a rabbit figure atop a vast crinoline skirt has a golden face, glittering eyes and soft ears. On one side of the stage, a singer with a heartstopping voice sings a gravelly song which concludes 'look like someone who cares'. The rabbit - which has horns as well as ears - makes goddess-type movements with all of its six arms, clad in golden lame evening gloves, occasionally opening a golden handbag and throwing handfuls of green money bills into the air. People sit through several repeats of the song and the flutterings. In the next door cinema, a film is unreeling of the rabbit in a different skirt, now on stilts and striding through the city of Cape Town attended by grey suited horned and bunny-eared figures, but still distributing play money to the city at large. The filmed and live performance are by p.m. inc - the name stands for 'after hours' or 'play money'
The group strives for style, entertainment, provocation, controversy, irony, sentiment, beauty' 'p.m. inc', says a press release, 'developed in response to the many contradictions which constitute the city of Cape Town as a commercial capital, tourist attraction and as a third world city divided along the lines of class, labour, race and culture.' The rabbit in this performance 'is an ironic and theatrical personification of 'capital' - it owns the city, people, business, time, Crismis, land and possibly your neighbour.'
Champagne is being served in the foyer, and visitors are being asked to fill in questionnaires with queries about 'caring' and 'money'
pm inc. is Candice Borzechowski, Emma Coleman, Dorothee Kreutzfeldt, Heath Nash, Haidee Nel, Woody Oliphant, Colin Payne, Louise Potgieter, Rebecca Townsend and Annabelle Wienand, and Look like someone who cares is one of a series of planned performances
The city of Havana
Seventh Biennial of Havana back on track
Like the Johannesburg Biennial, the Havana Biennial, an event of much longer standing, has been plagued by financial uncertainties. For a time it has seemed that a seventh Havana Biennial might never get off the ground. But the importance of such an event is far more clearly realised in Cuba than in this country, and the host organisation, the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Centre, has now announced that the Seventh Biennial of Havana will take place in November and December 2000.
Originally conceived for Latin American and Caribbean artists, since its second edition in 1986, this biennial has become the space for confrontation and dissemination of wide sectors of the visual arts from Asia, Africa and the Middle East. South African artists have been participating since 1991, and have found the experience of exhibiting alongside artists from other developing countries to be often far more meaningful than many of the other big international exhibitions. The committed intentions of the artists and thrust of the work seems to strike a chord which makes much work from the Northern hemisphere seem vapid.
The Biennial of Havana sets itself the task of structuring a series of exhibits, creation workshops and colloquia always around a central theme of reflection, which in 1991 was articulated around the theme 'Challenge to Colonization'. Venues in the historic centre of old Havana, as well as its modern areas show hundreds of art works and are viewed by curators, art critics, historians, directors of museums and galleries from around the world.
The last edition, held in 1997, emphasized the problem of 'Memory' as an essential factor in the definition of individual and collective identities, offering a varied program of how it is experienced by artists and cultures so geographically apart. The topic was also addressed for several day through works of plastic art and performances.
The next edition of the Biennial, scheduled for November and December of the year 2000, intends to 'reflect communication and dialogue among human beings in the midst of global, economic projects and the re-emergence of ethnic, religious and cultural particularisms which seem to increasingly accentuate the differences among the various communities and nations of the world.
'From the most out-of-the-way places to the most important cities of any country, many individuals, institutions, and governments send and receive messages dealing with the simplest and most complex of problems. However, given the differences existing among rich and poor nations, this level of intercommunication does nor develop equitably. In today's world hundreds of millions of persons still lack the necessary means to exercise what seems to be a universal right. Furthermore, all the progress made in computers, microprocessor and information technology has not been able to bring individuals as close as was thought at first, since, paradoxically, having computerized and digitalized equipments even in our homes has not led us to establish closer contacts with other people; on the contrary, in many cases it has led to isolation and immobility, perhaps depriving us of the traditional sources of exchange that has always made it possible to stay closer, to talk face to face, to understand one another better. Many men and women today suffer from the information and communication syndrome which is only a new face for the loneliness syndrome.
'Artists who live in rich countries and artists who live in poor countries alike have felt the nearness of that abyss, because art has not escaped that feeling and certainly of loneliness that rarefies the current atmosphere, and today feel the urge to break those barriers and lay down bridges resorting to finding new ways and means that will make for a better rapprochement among humans.
'In several parts of the planet they are trying to reconstruct traditional forms and lost models of communication which humankind achieved even in the midst of difficult living conditions, in an end-of-the-century attempt to better know and understand one another and coexist in an atmosphere of respect and peace which is necessary to overcome once and for all the persistent intolerance that has gradually consolidated into one of the main evils of this 20th Century and threatens to extend timelessly to the 21st Century with its inevitable sequels of ethnic, cultural and religious conflicts.
'The Seventh Biennial of Havana, scheduled for November and December of the year 2000 by the Wifredo Lam Centre, wishes to reflect upon this important issue by means of artistic designs and works that propose an effective dialogue among humans, an effective communication to convey the most authentic and noble values of our cultures, an inquiry about the communicative barriers between art and the public, with the aim of conjuring that evil, in order that can live on this planet in a more equitable way.
'The team of curators of the Biennial will select the artists of different regions of the world who can carry out their designs in situ or send their works to Havana. The expenses for making and transporting the designs and works that will be exhibited will be paid by the invited artists or their sponsoring institutions after coordinating it with the Biennial production team, as a way to contribute to the success of this event.
'The Organizing Committee is also open to proposal of works and designs that comply with the central reflection objectives stated here. The convenience of carying them out will be assessed even if they do not belong to artists or countries of the regions that are our main area of study. At the same time, the Organizing Committee proposes conducting a Contemporary Engraving Workshop and a series of lectures related to the global project of this Biennial.
'Soon our curators will begin their visits to the following regions:
Nelson Herrera Ysla - Latin America
For further information and details get in touch with the following address:
Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam