A project for the 2015 Havana Biennal exhibition “Between, Inside, Outside / Entre, Dentro, Fuera,” at Pabellon Cuba, Vedado District, Calle 23.
“Hecho en Cuba*,” 2015
activated May 22 – 30
Performative “factory” installation and trading post with fluctuating hours. Over 250 hand-sewn and printed tote bags produced, hundreds of pinback buttons, and hundreds of “trades” made with foreign tourists and local Cubans alike. With assistance from Universidad de La Habana Art History students Ana Carla Guevara, Leyanis Perojo, Rossana Bouza, seamstress Olivia, and others.
Stephanie Syjuco’s Hecho en Cuba* is a project that creates an independent series of “unofficial” souvenirs of the Havana Biennal itself, utilizing local labor as well as the artist’s own labor, and using all imported materials. Known for temporal interventions on marketplaces and institutional economies, Syjuco activates a process of small-scale, real-time production happening directly on-site. Everything is made “en Cuba” right in front of the visiting audience. Syjuco’s parallel line questions the role of an artist in the reproduction of cultural capital—reinforcing and subsuming her artistic license to the show itself. The final handmade items appear to be common, almost banal objects that accompany every standard international art festival, but bear the embedded realities of what can and cannot be produced in Cuba’s current economy.
To complicate matters further, money is not accepted in this alternative economy, and items can only be acquired through a negotiated trade and barter process. This reality negates the currency disparity of the Cuban peso (local currency) and CUC (the parallel “Cuban convertible currency” primarily used by foreign tourists), creating a potentially equal and personal platform for obtaining the souvenirs. The resulting activities of bargaining and haggling generated everything from disappointment to elation in creating an active and contentious spectacle of the assessment of “value” in an unfolding economy. Everything from generic travel items (mainly from wealthy foreigners) to intensely personal items including snapshots of family, religious icons, jewelry pulled off from around necks, fingers, and ears, and Cuban identification cards were exchanged. In total, the individual negotations and small samples of local and transitory cultures created a snapshot of Biennal visitors and how they define value.
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