René Francisco & Alexander Beatón
René Francisco Rodriguez is one of Cuba’s most important contemporary artists. As a professor at the Instituto Superior de Arte, Havana’s most prestigious art academy, he helped train an all-star team of emerging Cuban artists that includes Alexandre Arrechea and José Emilio Fuentes Fonseca (JEFF), both of whom are showing work at the 2009 Havana Biennial. A good overview of René Francisco’s own work can be seen during the Biennial at the Villa Manuela Gallery in the Vedado district. The exhibition is entitled Interpret, and includes photographic and video evidence of Francisco’s efforts to improve the human condition, specifically the condition of some of Havana’s poorest residents. For his Agua Benita project, he helped a woman named Benita Rivero fix her roof and bring running water into her dilapidated Buena Vista home. Anybody attending the opening of the show and wondering about the sincerity or efficacy of Francisco’s endeavors just had to put the question to Benita Rivero herself. She had made the journey to this uptown gallery to show her support for the artist who used every means at his disposal to make her world a better place.
Alexander Beatón focuses on the Big Bang of the Cuban experience, the intercontinental trade in sugar, tobacco and slaves. By the 19th century Havana had become the largest slave market in the Caribbean, and by the time slavery was officially outlawed in 1886, nearly one in two Cubans was a slave born in Africa. La Raza Permanente (The Permanent Race), Beatón’s contribution to the 2009 Havana Biennial, is about the particularities of Cuba’s population. Interposing black-and-white portraits and wooden palates stacked in the form of DNA strands, the installation ask us to consider not only the island’s painful colonial past but also its vibrant, multicultural present. "What interests me," Beatón says, "is recording potential changes in the collective imagination."