Design on the Island: A Biennial and an Eco-Competition


Susan Delson reviews “architecture, industrial design, interior design, fashion—and ‘trashion’” in Cuba, focusing on Havana’s Design Biennial [Bienal de Diseño La Habana], which took place last month. She writes:

The continuing thaw in Cuba-US relations has sparked many changes on both sides of the Florida Strait—among them, a re-energized focus on design on the island. So says Roberto M. Torres Barbán, coordinator of the first Bienal de Diseño La Habana, which took place in the capital last month, with additional programs in Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey.

In a presentation earlier this month at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Torres Barbán spoke about efforts to bring contemporary design into the spotlight alongside contemporary art. Although a Design Week had been presented annually over the previous eight years, it was a relatively low-profile event. The Cuban design community, including the Oficina Nacional de Diseño (ONDi), believed that more could be done. “The name was very easy,” said Torres Barbán, noting the parallel with Havana’s internationally recognized fine arts biennial, which presents its 13th edition in 2018.

But the concept behind the first Bienal de Diseño—or BDHabana’16—is slightly different, as reflected in its slogan, diseño y presperidad. “We wanted to promote the idea, within the island and internationally, that Cuban design could contribute to the prosperity of the economy dentro la Isla,” he explained.

As a result, along with a broad range of museums and cultural institutions, the Bienal’s 22 exhibition venues included entrepreneurial establishments such as Conga: Arte y Diseño, an interior design firm and retail store, and the architectural firm Laboratorio 26.

Exhibitions focused on such themes as contemporary jewelry design (at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes), architecture (at Laboratorio 26, Malecón 663, and the Galería Taller Gorría, and other venues), and furnishings, housewares, and accessories (Estudio Galería Los Oficios, Galería Collage Habana, Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales, and other locations).

Book and graphic design were featured at the Casa de la Poesía de la Oficina del Historiador de la Ciudad, among other locations, and in the international student workshops presented by the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, with students from the University of Art and Design in Halle, Germany.

[. . .] The Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) was a hub for Biennial activities, including exhibitions, screenings, and the popular Exposición colectiva de vestuario experimental, a show of futuristic fashion design. Another adventurous fashion show, Wake Up! Cuba Trashion, featured designs made from reclaimed and recycled materials. Presented at the Galería Raúl Oliva at the Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht, the show was an eye-catching success.

Other notable events included the Premio ONDi Diseño 2016 awards and exhibition at the Centro Hispano-Americano de Cultura. Among the winners: acclaimed veteran graphic designer Rafael Morante, with a retrospective exhibition at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba.

An exhibition on the acclaimed furniture and interior designer Clara Porset (1895–1981) was presented at Factoría Habana, where it remains on view through August 31. [. . .]

[Many thanks to Rod Fusco for bringing this item to our attention.]

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