Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sunday, 29th March

I have a last Cuba Libra with Emeka and a Spanish lady called Elena. Then come the teary goodbyes and I leave Havana.

Saturday, 28th March

The SÍnestas concert
At Wilfredo Lam I meet Black Box, a group of Nigerian photographers who have just arrived to set up their work. I wait at the cathedral steps to meet Susel who has agreed to accompany me shopping. She arrives 45 minutes late, just as I was about to give up on her. We haggle for curios in the markets and I walk away with a bag full of treasures. We walk along the seaboard from Malecón and have a drink in a bar overlooking Havana (Edificio FOSCA). At the huge modernist hotel the Havana Libre, I buy some cigars. We bump into a friend of Susel’s who gives us concert tickets to Síntesis, a group consisting of X-Alfonso’s parents and sister. We attend this and then party until sunrise.
The view from Edificio FOSCA

Friday, 27th March

The Biennial opens today. Andrew’s work has still not arrived. People are setting up furiously and visitors are already swarming around the Cabãna. I have a look at the work, there are some good pieces but most of it is not that impressive. The scale of the Biennial is huge though and it extends far beyond the Cabãna. Logistically it is a remarkable feat.

At 7pm Punkasila perform to a small group on plastic chairs. They don’t give a damn! The lead singer only threatens to stop when the band run out of Bucanero Beer. Later the official opening act is X-Alfonso who performs Cuban fusion music to dancing crowds. An unofficial afterparty begins where Punkasilia performed earlier.

Thursday, 26th March

Another view of the seaboard
On my way into town I bump into Emeka from Nigeria who is also staying at the house. At the Cabãna I have a mojito with Berni Searle. I arrange to meet Emeka and Guy (from Cameroon) later. We go to another exhibition opening and then to a bar where we join Emeka and Guy. We meet some of Susel’s friends and then go back to a house party with them. Everyone is drinking rum. Later Emeka, Guy and myself go back to the house where the hosts serve us food at 3am.

Wednesday, 25th March

Andrew Putter and Susel with the Fortaleza de la Cabãna in the background

With Susel’s help I hang my map and photo works, and tweak my bag installation. I have lunch with Andrew and Minette who is having $5 lobster. We attend the catalogue launch at Wilfredo Lam. Afterwards there is a party and we dance in the courtyard.

Tuesday, 24th March

Alexandro and me in his apartment
At the Cabãna I find someone to paint the walls of my space. Two students do an interview with me. Susel and I catch a lift in a van going to town. We go to the opening of an exhibition where I bump into Jane Alexander. Afterwards we buy a bottle of rum and go to Alexandro’s house near the Capitilo in the middle of Havana. We eat some food, he gives us some paintings and we listen to music. Later Susel shows me some grand colonial hotel where they do not mind admitting Cubans. We have a mojito and I catch an old car home.
Old American cars

Monday, 23rd March

The Fontaleza de le Cabãna
Andrew and I take the bus to Wilfredo Lam. There he discovers his artwork is tied up in Paris. We meet an artist from Surinam called Remy and two artists from Trinidad and Tobago called Steve and Ayodhya. They know Ronald Suresh Roberts. We all head to the Cabãna and check out spaces. Later Andrew and I meet up with Sue Williamson, the Essop twins and Minette Vári in the Cathedral Plaza. We have mojitos. Afterwards they go to dinner while Andrew and I go back to the house for our free rice and beans. In our room we find the members of punk band and artwork, Punkasila sprawled on every other bed smoking clove cigarettes.

Sunday, 22ndMarch

Papa and me
It rains the whole day. I lie on the top bunk next to an open window and read. Later I hang out with the family from the house. I smoke a cigar with Papa and we all joke with each other in sign language. I go to bed early and am woken a while later when Andrew Putter arrives and is shown into the dorm.

Saturday, 21st March

A fire in a field in Miramar

I get up early, slip out of the house and make my way back to mine where I eat breakfast and go back to sleep. Later I walk up to Miramar where there are giant hotels along the seafront, massive, sealed-off entities that do not feel welcoming. Instead I find a supermarket that reminds me of the shops in Zimbabwe. I can’t find anything to buy and so I go grab a bite in a little beer garden nearby. A fire starts in a field opposite me and I watch as events unfold and fire engines come to extinguish the flames.
Miramar, the Russian Embassy in the background and a supermarket on the right

Friday, 20th March

Cathedral Plaza with the Wilfredo Lam Contemporary Art Centre in the background

I find my way to Wilfredo Lam by bus; this process involves changing buses once and it takes me more than an hour. I am told a bus is called a ‘Güa Güa’, pronounced ‘wah wah’. Bus etiquette includes asking at the bus stop who is last in line, and then shouting ‘permisso’ to get through the people on the bus. The buses are packed, and on the next one I barely manage to squeeze into the doorway – with my toes just inside. Miraculously the doors close wedging us in. The fare is a token 40 National Cents. The bus driver, cigar in mouth, plays his own taste in music at whatever volume he likes. He also stops en route to pick up some food and run errands.

At Wilfredo Lam, I am introduced to a beautiful young Cuban lady called Susel who is to be my assistant. Together we go by bus through a tunnel under the Bay of Havana to the Fortaleza de la Cabãna, an old Fortress. At the Cabãna, I am shown my exhibition space. It is a long room with a curved ceiling that was used to store ammunition or house soldiers. There are many of these lined up next to each other, making up the fortress.

Susel and me

Together we unpack and loosely arrange my installation. We share the lunch Susel has been given as a worker there. Afterwards we have a mojito at an outdoor restaurant where we meet some of the other artists. There is Ishmael from Peru with his assistant Dan from the UK. I also bump into Marcio who I know from São Paulo. We arrange to meet up later.

Susel shows me some of Old Havana and then we take an old American car to the neighbourhood of Vedado. Many of the old American cars work like the taxi vans do here in S.A, working along certain routes and picking up passengers on the way. Inside they are often heavily modified with seats taken from other vehicles, but with no door handles or window-winders.

In Vedado, the university district, we visit her friend Yacksie (no idea how this is spelt). In her street there are men playing dominos and a neighbourhood dog called Charity that everyone feeds. At Yacksie’s we eat some rice and beans. The women shower and dress and then we set off into the night.

We walk down the Avenue of the Presidents, the main emo hang-out in Havana. Later we end up in a club with Ishmael, Dan and some artists from Brazil. At 3am the club closes and we go back to Yacksie’s where we microwave a pizza and I pass out.

Thursday, 19th March

Jorge and me
I am given a bread roll and some sweetened black coffee for breakfast. I discover my hosts are three generations of the same family all working together in the same house. After breakfast I watch the women sit around a table picking out husks and stones from piles of rice and beans. They do this until it is time to start cooking lunch.

Meanwhile I wait, sure that the VIP treatment will extend to my being fetched and taken to the Biennial venue. However after some time this begins to look less promising. Without internet access, all the information I have is in my little notebook. Two phone numbers and the name ‘Wilfredo Lam Contemporary Art Centre’.

I try calling the numbers, but in both cases the language barrier proves too much. It looks like I will have to make my own way there. Papa, the son in my family of hosts, points me in the direction of a bus. I get onto the first bus and overpay the fare with a whole Peso. I try to ask various people including the driver how to get to Wilfredo Lam. At the next stop the bus driver starts yelling ‘Peh Uno!’ at me and effectively kicks me off the bus.

Startled at this rude behaviour, I glance around at the people gathered at the bus stop. Someone kindly signals to me that he means I should take the P1 bus. On the next P1 I am asking directions again and after sometime I am told to get off and walk. Lost in Old Havana, I eventually flag down a taxi. We drive around asking everyone on the street if they happen to know the Wilfredo Lam. It takes several hours but eventually we find it. It is next to a very famous Cathedral that everyone knows.

I meet with Pepe, one of the curators, and he shows me around the area. We walk to Parque Central, a concrete plaza where Cubans congregate to talk about baseball. Not to bet or watch, just talk. I wonder around. Later I meet with Jorge who offers to show me the bus route home when he finishes work. I end up waiting for him on the steps of the cathedral, and begin talking to a man named Luis who has piercings all over his face: long needles. He poses with tourists for a living. I share some of his rum and then head home with Jorge.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Wednesday, 18th March

The seaboard near Malecón
by Dan Halter

I land in Havana at around 3pm on a Virgin Atlantic flight from London. Disembarking onto the gangway I am surprised to find a man waiting there with my name on a board. The man, Jorge, has my Cuban Visa and he escorts me through immigration. I feel like a VIP in front of the other passengers.

Walking out of the airport we get drenched by a warm tropical rain shower that quickly subsides. It is hot and muggy. Driving from the airport I am impressed by the old American cars on the roads that are I have always associated with the island. There are also horse-drawn carts and some newer Russian and Chinese cars.

I am taken to a government-funded house that accommodates artists and musicians from abroad. It is a rudimentary building with dormitory-style rooms filled with bunk beds. The windows are without glass, just heavy wooden shutters. There is no toilet seat and only a trickle of shower water. It is not far from the home of the original Buena Vista Social Club.

I enjoy a hearty meal of rice and beans with a Vienna sausage with my hosts. Unfortunately our conversation is somewhat limited by the lack of a common language and we use lots of hand-signals.