“Where are you from?” asked someone, while sipping a black coffee in the patio of the Cuban Pavilion.
“I’m from Minnesota,” was the brief answer from Al Franken, Democratic senator from Minnesota.
Making their first visit to the island with Franken were senator Tom Udall of New Mexico and representatives Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and John Larson of Connecticut, all Democrats, along with their respective families.
The visitors at the site of Young Cuban Art were attending a collective exhibition — Between, Inside, Outside / Entre, Dentro, Fuera — that brought together the works of Cuban and U.S. artists as part of the 12th Havana Biennial.
Udall said that “the purpose of this visit is to bring Cuba and the United States closer to each other through friendship, art and culture.” According to him, “the more culture you have or obtain, the more people you can unite.”
Once the formal presentations were made to the public, who were enjoying a “trova” concert, the American lawmakers, their wives and children were guided by curators Royce W. Smith of the U.S. and Dannys Montes de Oca of Cuba past the various installations in the show.
According to Grijalva, “this exchange represents the future possibilities of the relations between governments, using culture and art as the basis of the movement toward normalization. To me, the exhibition is an effort that is part of Obama’s strategy.”
“We are committed to assuring you that, even after 50 years, we can coexist, provide support and be part of the necessary relations,” he added.
The legislators were attracted by the work of Cuban artist Glenda Salazar, whose pencil drawings of trees native to Cuba are a call to national identity.
They were also attracted by “Made in Cuba,” a project by Filipino-American artist Stephanie Syjuco, who offers to exchange Bienal souvenir bags for objects that she cannot possibly obtain in San Francisco.
Al Franken, who is also renowned for his work as writer and comedian, said that the reason we need the arts is simple: “The brain is not the mind, and the mind is not the soul.”
Touching on topics related to the future of political relations between Cuba and the U.S., such as the recent round of diplomatic talks, Grijalva said that “the most important thing is to lift the embargo. And I’m optimistic, because President Obama has the administrative power to lift it on the 29th of this month. The economic and humanitarian process between the two countries begins now.”
Asked about Obama’s possible visit to Cuba in 2016, Udall said that he hoped to ask the president “personally to come, because it’s a thrilling experience.”
Good-humoredly, curator Smith said:
“We invited [Obama] to the Biennial but we understand why he couldn’t come. He’s a busy man.”
With similar good humor, Udall responded:
“Well, next time you tell us and we’ll see how we can give you a hand.”
Photos: Alba León Infante