The cancellation of the 2018 Biennial due to Hurricane Irma in September 2017 and the impact this had on the cultural institutions and infrastructure in Cuba, seems to bear evidence of the increased political tensions, as well as the exhaustion of cultural organizational structure on the island. It is well known that in Cuba, great events do not take place simultaneously: from the Book Fair to the Theater Festival, the Ballet Festival or the Film Festival – these events are held in temporary succession, which prevents their coexistence. The centralization of the Cuban administrative system favors a vertical structure of surveillance and control, which ensures the ideological order during the only “mega-event” developed in a specific space and time.
Therefore, the coincidence of the 13th Havana Biennial with the transfer of mandates established for the first time in almost 60 years outside the official family, e.g. the Castro family, was less than convenient. In the context of the appointment of a new president, the government could not allow a new Tatlin’s Whisper. Let’s recall: In December 2014, the renowned Cuban artist Tania Bruguera was arrested at her home in Havana after reinterpreting the performance Tatlin’s Whisper in the Plaza de la Revolución, originally presented during the 2009 Havana Biennial. The performance consists in the establishment of a podium where members of the public are invited to speak uncensored for one minute. Bruguera’s arrest triggered a process of imprisonment and repression against Cuban civil society and fostered a wave of protests from the international art community. (See for example the debate “The Biennial of Havana: To engage or to boycott?”, published on the website of the Cisneros Collection).
The decision to postpone the Biennial caused substantial reactions on the Cuban art scene. In the words of the main forces behind a new alternative event, the #00Biennial, artist Luis Manuel Otero and art historian Yanelys Núñez, the #00Biennial was created “at a moment when the Cuban cultural authorities announced the suspension of the 30 year official Biennial. The news circulated on social networks where it also generated intense debates.” The debates sparked a number of questions such as: How come the artists were not included in making this decision? And how much longer will the Cuban government operate authoritatively regarding the immediate future of its citizens? “Among the many proposals which appeared”, Otero and Núñez explain, “one was to organize the Biennial independently from the state and we took the step forward to make this happen.”