OPC Blog Entry 8
March 31st, 2009
Yesterday we hosted a lunch for young artists – both Cuban and non-Cuban – who have lived and worked in Havana. We spoke informally about their experiences as students in Cuban institutions and with experimental arts education. We learned of the ambiguous relationship between Bruguera’s collaborative art school Arte de Conducta and the state-run Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), which offers programs in the visual arts as well as in dance, music, theater, and architecture. Many of the artists with whom we spoke had been students at ISA, and even earned degrees there, while simultaneously participating in Arte de Conducta.
The students described how their professors consistently expected hard work and mature projects, refusing excuses such as the lack of resources and studio space. Further, some of the artists we spoke to considered these limitations as an encouragement towards collaboration. Among a group of seven or eight students, one might own a video camera, one might be able to get their hands on editing software, and another might possess studio space. The same was true in regards to access to information. Anyone who returned from travel abroad with an exhibition catalogue would often see the book transfered from hand to hand across a large portion of Havana’s young arts scene before it returned to its owner.
Throughout this trip, we have been intensely interested in the socio-political context for art in Cuba but it was only in this informal setting that the artists we have been spending time with opened up to us about their personal experiences — negotiating bureaucracies, racial tensions, and economic hardship. Even then, the foreign students, hailing from Colombia and the Virgin Islands, were the most open about their perceptions of social and political pressures on artists in Cuba. Arte de Conducta had only a small percentage of non-Cuban students, as Bruguera was reluctant to open up her project to students who typically already had opportunities to participate in comparable forms of arts education.