Orlando García. Historian, President of the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC), province of Cienfuegos.
Magda González Grau. Film and TV director, Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT).
Fernando Rojas. Historian, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Culture (MINCULT).
Jennifer Hosek. Professor of Cultural Studies, Queens University, Ontario, Canada.
Gretel Arrate. Visual artist, Provincial Center for Visual Arts and Design, province of Santiago de Cuba.
Osvaldo Doimeadiós. Actor, TV scriptwriter, theater director.
Questions for the panel:
1. How do you define and value the dialogue between art and politics?
2. How would you describe it at the various levels where it is held?
3. Mention the main problems facing a dialogue between art and politics at any of those levels.
4. What would you recommend the artists with a view to a dialogue with politicians, and vice versa?
Rafael Hernández (Moderator): Welcome to this online edition of Último Jueves, dedicated this time to ‘Dialogues between art and politics’, a topic that we have already addressed, from different angles and in different contexts, in some of the more than two hundred panels convened by this space. We are doing it again today, this time with new panelists and in a very particular context.
Here to lead our discussion of these issues is a very special group of six men and women, both from Havana and other parts of Cuba, and even from abroad, who are outstanding authorities on these issues. We are also happy that we managed to gather a large number of participants to take part in our discussion today.
QUESTIONS FOR THE PANEL
Rafael Hernández: Thank you very much to you all for being here with us. I start with the first question: How would you describe the dialogue between art and politics and its nature in general?
Orlando García: A dialogue between art and politics must be characteristic of the efforts and negotiations to steer the Cuban Revolution into a socialism underpinned by tenets that mainly include the democratization of culture to achieve social justice and the full responsible exercise of the right to freedom that must prevail among the members of the artistic and political avant-garde. This approach came to the fore in the early days of the Revolutionary Government with the establishment of several cultural institutions that gave a tremendous boost to artistic and literary production, as well as to the professionalization of art and the promotion of creators of higher rank.
Articulating politics and culture without disregarding the economic, social and ideological matters is an essential part of the basis of the revolutionary policy to achieve the sovereignty of the people. The complexity and importance of the relation between art and politics led to the consolidation of exchanges, debates, confrontations and discussions of ideas that the Cuban political and governmental authorities held with artists and writers of different generations and esthetic tendencies.
Socialist power demands a system of cultural institutions to launch a cultural policy that helps shape a human being, as Graziella Pogolotti said, “capable of holding a critical dialogue with contemporary cultural production” and, therefore, recalling Fidel, capable of enjoying culture as “an instrument of liberation”. Our artistic and literary avant-garde—organized in UNEAC since August 1961—has participated, together with the political actors, in the preparation and implementation of the country’s cultural policies. This made it possible to correct some institutional mistakes and readjust guidelines. In that way, the political sphere would gradually ensure the best possible performance of a state structure in the implementation of the Revolution’s policy on the mass dissemination of culture.
Magda González Grau: In my view, it is very difficult, but not impossible, to have a dialogue between art and politics. I mean a dialogue that is not necessarily conducive to opposing positions, but one in which art might take a stand perhaps incompatible with a given political position, but if both sides are respectful and serious and harbor no disqualifying prejudices, it can be very useful to their mutual development. Hence its importance, since a dialogue is absolutely necessary for both sides to grasp reality, which is always the first or the ultimate source of artistic inspiration, and understand how a work of art represents reality.
Fernando Rojas: Politics is a field of human activity and, like any other field, art has an interest in and cares about it. If it refers to the promotion of art—for example, what we call in Cuba “cultural policy”, although this is much more comprehensive—then politics has to have a dialogue with art and the artists.
Jennifer Hosek: As I see it, nothing is beyond politics. That is to say, all actions and objects have an influence on our world. So as a subset of those actions, all artistic production also has an influence. Even art for art’s sake is political. It may either try to free people’s thoughts or preserve society as is. I am sure that this supposedly uncommitted art also influences the world.
The world is about dialogue, debate, and struggle. Michel Foucault used the term “power discourses”. Art is a power discourse and plays a part in the scene of those discourses that make up the world.
In the end, I believe that a dialogue between art and politics is important because it shapes our world.
Art can play a very special role in shaping the world because most people appreciate its value. Art is a significant cultural asset and has a voice in most societies. My point, even if I digress, is that in today’s world of “white noise”, mass media and social networks it would be perhaps necessary to have a sign that says “art still has a voice” and has not yet disappeared into the white noise of the networks dominated by the power of money.
The other reason for art’s inspirational function is that it is at once a very personal expression of the creator and also seeks to express feelings and viewpoints that resonate with its audience. As a rule, art’s commitment to what we call “reality” is considered to be more fluid, complex and comprehensive than the one politics attempts to assume. Art has the freedom and the obligation to redefine reality. Politics, on the contrary, can be challenged by this redefinition, but it is still responsible for recognizing reality because it is in charge of its people’s real and daily well-being. Through its interpretations of reality, art propels both politics and the people.
Gretel Arrate: In the first place, a dialogue between art and politics needs a context. In Cuba, it is an absolutely necessary tool to guarantee the fluidity and generational development of both the artistic and the political process. In the world, politics establishes the guidelines to be followed within society, while art is part of that society as an active being. Therefore, they must develop a permanent, honest and clever communication which, if properly balanced, paves the way for a fruitful and enriching dialogue that will contribute to development. However, if they refuse to dialogue and disregard the need to have one while the scales tip in favor of the ruling class, there will be stagnation, disapproval, and discontent.
A dialogue between art and politics has been very much in fashion in our present context. Most of us agree that it is important for the cultural growth that the country will benefit from, no matter what. It must be respectful and transparent, comprehensible and flexible rather than sectarian.
In different moments, from [Fidel Castro’s] Words to the intellectuals until today, there have been dialogues with artists and intellectuals as a result of the congresses of UNEAC and the Hermanos Saíz Association (AHS). MINCULT has organized dialogues at some points, attended by its guests.
I think that a dialogue must be vertically present in every cultural space, not only to sound out opinions, but to establish what is needed to solve our problems and how.
Osvaldo Doimeadiós: To me, the relation between art and politics is crucial to the extent that it can take center stage in the discussion of issues of importance for society’s development and make it possible to delimit and harmonize any contradiction, always taking it for granted that harmony, as a great physicist said, is the agreement between tensions. So I see that dialogue as a mobilizing element, a quantum particle accelerator, almost as it happens in physics, but also see it from a different perspective.
For example, I think that if there is anything that we know, in the midst of our present crisis, it is the vertical approach from the institutions, or from politics, to hold a dialogue or make any kind of arrangement about the profession. That is why I believe in the value of a discussion between art and politics as a shot in the arm of all areas of art and society in a general sense.
Rafael Hernández: On what level does that dialogue take place?
It would seem that it is something unique and homogeneous, but it is not. For example, there is a dialogue between the artists and the state institutions, but also about the meaning of the works of art as sources of ideas and the representation of that meaning in the field of politics, and those discussions have different characteristics. There are also differences between the esthetic criteria adopted by artistic creation and people’s preferences regarding the appreciation of a work of art from a political angle, which is on still another level. A fourth level arises between the supposedly legitimate powers conferred to artistic expression and the limits that the current legislation in Cuba or any other country imposes on them, much like between the political ideas of the leaders and those of the artists. Finally, artists and leaders may have artistically different ideas, be it in Cuba or elsewhere.
Orlando García: Nowadays, the state institutions are showing greater readiness, as stated by the top leadership of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), to have a serious dialogue with the avant-garde artists and writers of UNEAC and AHS. The presence in that dialogue of Party secretaries and provincial governors stamps a more dynamic style of work on their practical analyses of, and solutions to, the questions raised by the most relevant creators and by those who take political stances other than the “incorrigible reactionaries”.
Magda González Grau: The first level on which this dialogue takes place is between the artists and the organizations and institutions designed to that effect. In Cuba, for example, the culture system exists because of and for the artists. At least that is how it is laid down more or less explicitly in their constitutional documents. Even in Words to the intellectuals, Fidel highlights the Revolution’s obligation to ensure the full development of the arts. The cultural policy that guarantees art schools and institutions in support and favor of that development, as well as UNEAC first and AHS years later, came up from that idea. It is much like the essential and required dialogue between parents and children. This dialogue is supposed to be easier at this level, since in most cases the leaders of those institutions and organizations are artists themselves or have close links with them.
Then comes a second level, that of politicians who are not in charge of a cultural institution or organization but in upper echelons of the political pyramid. It is a complicated level, because most politicians—not to say all of them—are not versed in the interpretation of a work of art’s true meaning.
In his text Socialism and man in Cuba, Che Guevara wrote about those officials who disqualify what they fail to understand rather than go deeper into it. Such a basic analysis of a work of art that certain schools of political thought could find upsetting is very dangerous, because it becomes superficial if there is not a previous dialogue with its creator. They say, “The artist meant this or that”, without giving them a chance to uphold their points of view or understanding why they chose a topic in this or that way. Therefore, the required dialogue will not take place if the politicians disqualify works of art after a rudimentary analysis. Once the politicians disqualify both the artist and the work of art, no dialogue is considered worth the effort, they pull rank on the former and censor the latter. Censorship is the worst possible tool, as it always backfires on the politician and automatically confers upon the artist’s work an additional artistic value given by the taste for things forbidden.
Fernando Rojas: There are at least two levels of dialogue here. The dialogue between artists and institutions is permanent and should be fruitful wherever there is a State cultural policy in place, as in the case, for example, of several countries in Europe, Latin America and Asia, and of Canada.
Any discussion about the meaning of a work of art becomes difficult because art is always polysemous. Only through critique and a growingly intense relationship with art’s recipients—the public—can the perception of its meaning have any value. This assertion is one of the cornerstones of the Cuban State’s cultural policy, which is committed to giving the majority of people as much access as possible to the best products of national and universal culture. That is why art’s representation in the field of politics, or the relationship of the artists and their work with our institutions, materialize through promotion and dissemination. Artistic creation is and has to be free. In fact, if the boundaries of the creative act expand, our long-established conventions of distinction among art’s branches and genre will come apart, which poses even more difficult challenges to both the critics and the public, and this should be an opportunity to enjoy them more and contribute to their improvement.
Jennifer Hosek: The structure of a society where dialogues take place plays a major role. For example, the countries where art is mostly funded by private corporations tend to have much fewer discussions and dialogues. The reason is that, in those cases, art subordinates to the wishes of the prevailing culture, as Gramsci would say, to the hegemony. Antonio Negri, in turn, spoke of subsumption under capital. In our case, art would then be subsumed by the interests of those whose wealth made them powerful. Teodoro Adorno, thinking of Hollywood, the United States and the mass media under the Nazis, spoke of a cultural industry that used its power structures and privileges to promulgate and reassert the prevailing culture.
In countries with insufficient public funds to develop art, the most radical debates frequently take place in front of small audiences and never make it to the majorities or to mainstream society. That is to say, they have little sway on the hegemonies. Of course, there are exceptions. During the Trump era, HBO produce Raoul Peck’s remarkable documentary film Exterminate All the Brutes.
Gretel Arrate: A dialogue moves in between all the levels mentioned under this item. In my view, the State institutions and its leaders have much to do with its success and play a key role in prompting and triggering dialogue, and that is when conflicts arise—or not. For example, if a creator disagrees with the State institution, he or she is immediately judged from each of those levels. That is, based on the meaning of the work of art as a source of ideas, on the esthetic criteria underpinning the creation, on the standards of preference, and on attributions deemed to be legitimate. These are the usual scenarios where dialogue as a phenomenon takes place and artistic creation is judged.
Likewise, if a creator is accepted and praised by the State institution, he or she will also be judged on the basis of those criteria, but with stress on the positive values of their work, and then these conflicts are approached from a different angle.
Osvaldo Doimeadiós: I would place those relations between art and politics on different planes. Any discussion would have to come right from the community where the work of art is created. That is why I like to think of the project that I am currently leading, Nave Oficio de Isla, as a “creative community” in which we have established various clusters: one each of music, cinema, visual arts, dance and performing arts, and theater, as well as another for events of a researching nature, that is, everything related to research, training workshops, etc.
This way of organizing ourselves internally will lead to conflicting concerns within each of those creative clusters. It is very important to hold first of all an internal discussion and then establish those connections on a collective level. That is why I said in my first answer that there is an institutional crisis in terms of the vertical design of the art’s structure or the forms of participation available to the artists. We must revitalize them, which entails the creation of another form of participation and, therefore, a political basis for any discussion, for any kind of production, meaning and presentation of shows. The first step would be to look into each of those clusters and then into the relationships between the creative community and the various guilds. This would pave the way for another kind of discussion within and participation of those guilds, followed by still another level of discussion, this time at institutional level, which could then be much more dynamic. I think the most valuable and mobilizing role belongs to that relationship inasmuch as it emerges at grassroots level as a creation or a project. Without it, any other kind of participation would seem to be hanging in the air, as if it were inside a bubble. All this adds fuel to the crisis that I mentioned earlier between the real participation of each of these creative elements at the level of the community and at the level of the cross-sectional design that should typify the dissemination of those assets emerged from the community.
Rafael Hernández: Which are the main problems that hinder, block and complicate the dialogue between art and politics?
Orlando García: What I said in my previous answer is no guarantee that there will be an effective coordination between the thoughts of creators and those conveyed through the cultural programs of the institutions, one capable of reverting the sort of discontinuity found in culture’s daily job of expressing an artistic and literary work. The various bureaucratic bodies involved in culture are lacking in a systemic approach to the cultural processes. Our Advisory Committees still play a merely formal role vis-à-vis the institutional system’s daily work at local level. That is why the dissemination of the most experimental, original and challenging products of artistic and literary creation often run into obstacles. What we see seeing then, under the guise of justification, is what Che Guevara described as “what everybody understands, or what the officials understand. This tampers with true scientific research”. These officials keep giving right of way to works that sing the praises of the Revolution, to the detriment of a variety of high-quality cultural offers and interpretations deemed to be more complex or critical of social reality. The fact that many “political cadres and officials” are devoid of profound cultural knowledge leads them to make decisions based on their personal taste and cultural standards, still guided by the old dogmatic and sectarian ideas that prevailed under socialism in the Soviet Union and other eastern European countries.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that there are still people in “decision-making” positions who never studied or understood [Fidel’s speech] Words to the Intellectuals, much less Carlos Rafael Rodríguez’s message at the 4th Congress of UNEAC: “No one has the right to wait. Everyone has a job to do. The Party advises, but UNEAC and its members have their own orbit, and they will be held liable for inaction. This is not the time to quarrel, but to come together, but if there is official inactivity, the weapons of criticism are available for use”.
The development of an inadequate cadre policy in the field of culture takes a considerable toll on the art-politics dialogue in the grassroots institutions of our culture, an essential link in the structure of the State. Our everyday cultural life keeps showing signs of verticality, unmovable regulations, improvisation and spontaneity regarding the promotion and mass dissemination of culture. This is influenced by the tendency to disregard the participation of artists and writers in the adoption of decisions about fundamental aspects of the implementation of cultural policies in communities and municipalities where executives and officials often lack the necessary knowledge to take care of artistic and literary activity, respecting hierarchies and promoting true creativity. It is also because the appointment of local, municipal and provincial cultural officials is based solely on their political reliability, which sometimes conceals a reliance on their loyalty to the higher-up who promoted them to those positions. This brings with it a lack of commitment to the cultural policy itself—whose history of practical implementation they ignore—and, therefore, mistakes such as those made in the so-called “gray quinquennium”. What makes it all even worse is the insufficient cultural, political and ideological qualification of leaders and officials placed with MINCULT’s institutions in many provinces.
A look at the years elapsed since the establishment, first, of the National Council of Culture and, later, of the Ministry of Culture, reveals the extent of the talent development process in the sphere of art and literature, but also unnecessary problems to organize a dialogue with artists and writers, whose work is recognized in their communities, caused by incompetent officials insufficiently qualified to perform the duties entrusted to them and lacking in the indispensable sensitivity to hold an unbiased dialogue.
Magda González Grau: First, the absence of spaces for dialogue, which are increasingly rare, if not inexistent; the fact that having a dialogue is not a deeply-rooted habit; the poor political and cultural qualification of those in charge of culture, and its leaders in general, to the detriment of their ability to exchange with the artists; the feelings of suspicion about the diverse artistic discourse of the politicians; and the artists’ no less distrustful attitude toward the leaders.
Fernando Rojas: One of the problems about the relationship between art and politics is the assumption that the freedom of creation can be restricted. The capacity for autonomous dissemination of any human creation has grown in the course of time, and today it runs at full speed via hardly innocent spaces like the Internet and the social networks. This gives creators an opportunity to become their own promoters at the same time as it poses a huge challenge to the recipient’s critical capacity.
These tools were designed and expanded by capitalism, and the great powers contribute to and have control over them. In terms of promotion and dissemination of cultural and, particularly, artistic contents, they respond to the hegemony of a monolithic thinking which portrays capitalism as the natural order of human organization and, in matters of art, grants the market the capacity to be its sole regulator. In conditions of poor critical thinking and of indifference to the expansion of the audiences, in terms of both the development of appreciation skills and the full satisfaction of the spirit, making the dissemination of art contingent on plans for profit maximization entails a greater hegemony of the monolithic way of thinking. In political terms, this conception, supposedly based on the freedom of dissemination, is nothing but subjugation to the market and a denial of any kind of cultural policy for the good of the people.
Jennifer Hosek: The example of Adorno and his cultural industry highlights the main problem. The U.S. cultural industry is obviously different from the Nazi one, but they are similar in that the money is in the hands of a few, namely capitalists and dictators, whereas in both societies the levels of power of each member of the population are different.
When the participants share cultural and material power, important and meaningful dialogues become possible, and also between art and politics. We often call such a society a democracy. The challenge is how to reach a level of democracy where power is shared and dialogues are held.
Gretel Arrate: The main problems that could hinder a dialogue between art and politics are poor inter-generational communication and the lack of information, knowledge, understanding and sensitivity. If you are knowledgeable, understanding and sensitive, I am sure that we will do great things and have an intelligible, pleasant and fruitful dialogue.
Osvaldo Doimeadiós: I think t hat the worst problems when it comes to that relationship between art, the spaces it generates, and the institutions and politicians, are due to the zones of paralysis that have befallen this dialogue, by failing to to bring to a conclusion, discussions long deferred and problems still unresolved in the guild. I am talking about the ineffectiveness of the mechanisms established by the labor unions, for instance, something that we have long been dragging along. I am also thinking about the non-participation of the main actors in decision-making at the grassroots level, or their participation in this process at institutional level. That is a most serious problem today, one which leads our organizations or groups to have little confidence that our problems will be solved. We would have to set in motion other forms of political participation in the decision-making, goal-setting and plan-designing processes to solve precisely those problems. I believe in the development of more autonomous labor policies or forms of management, but also that they should be more closely related to the mechanisms that culture itself creates.
Rafael Hernández: What would you recommend to the artists to deliberate with the politicians, and vice versa?
Orlando García: Always have an honest, transparent and ethically responsible dialogue about any subject in order to create an atmosphere of complete mutual confidence. Never lose your patience or portray yourself to your political interlocutors as society’s critical voice, even if you realize that you are dealing with culturally ill-equipped individuals or that your exchanges, debates and discussions are based on “command-and-obey” attitudes.
Without a dialogue between politicians and artistic/literary creators it is impossible to properly implement the cultural policy of a socialist process in which the conscious engagement of those actors is essential to strengthen relations with political leaders and government authorities.
As to the politicians, I would urge them to assume the implementation of the cultural policy without the so-called dirigentismo, or leadership fever, and study with scientific rigor the history of culture after January the 1st, 1959. Thus they would understand much better that only with greater political support can the best artistic and literary products become a part of the Cuban people’s daily life, in the small, heterogeneous and singular universe of their communities and neighborhoods. I would recommend that they exercise serene judgments, develop critical awareness and make unprejudiced appraisals to approach, without premeditated omissions and silences as demonstrations of power, the history of the Cuban cultural policy. This culture is consolidated in the ideas of [José] Martí and Fidel, this culture seeks the organic integration of political actors and the most relevant intellectuals in the world of artistic and literary creation. Resorting over and over again to the frank, open and plural kind of dialogue that enriches the mobility of ideas should be the hallmark of the relationship between art and politics in order to reach consensus and ensure the democratic participation of Cubans. As Graziella Pogolotti said, “culture is that space for dialogue where the essence and the spiritual dimension of the nation are forged”.
Magda González Grau: I would recommend both sides to show respect, listen to each other, put themselves in each other’s place, understand everyone’s reasons, refrain from making a priori judgments, and rid themselves of any prejudice. Such would be the base of a good dialogue between art and politics.
Fernando Rojas: I have nothing to recommend for a dialogue between artists and politicians other than what can be inferred from previous comments. Just add that our institutions are far from perfect and always need the artists’ insight and input. It is essential that they have an unbiased and unconditional dialogue.
Jennifer Hosek: In his famous essay about the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant used the term Mündigkeit as an aspiration of the human being. This term comes very handy now. It can be translated as a mature and also developed, reliable, responsible adult. It can materialize through education and when society’s assets and power are shared. The challenge I mentioned before works a bit as in a circle here: share what we have, and have Mündigkeit, democracy, a voice—each aspect complements the others. Reaching such a goal is a challenge.
My suggestion to artists and politicians is that they fight to attain this Mündigkeit. Another sense of this term would be to act in good faith. These actions, which include difficult debates and dialogues, would then be focused on improving everybody’s life.
Gretel Arrate: I would advise everyone, first of all, not to invade anybody’s space and always be respectful, trusting, understanding, tolerant, unprejudiced and committed. If they meet these requirements, they can have a nice, pleasant and functional dialogue.
Osvaldo Doimeadiós: First I would recommend the artists to go deeper into each of the problems that they deem urgent in their environment, at least to identify which ones have a solution. Sometimes the solution to what seems to be a big problem is close at hand, or the problem is not as complicated as it looks.
Above all else, perseverance in a dialogue with the politicians. We should also organize seminars and theoretical conferences and invite those politicians to participate and discuss solutions. We should also get involved in the actions emanating from our every project, which can generate a different empathy to better understand and solve our problems. We do not have to let the problems get the better of us; we must get up every day and say, “We can do this if we organize ourselves”, and engage everyone in the work and in decision-making under what should be a creative community.
Collective work is important in my profession, so I think that we must encourage everyone to have their say and do their bit as part of that work. It would be good to get the politicians involved so that they see how these processes develop. Trying other forms of management, production and research could be useful to make them more sensitive to our projects and get their help to revitalize and discuss policies. And why not, also demand our involvement when it comes to making decisions that affect or help the development of our community.
Rafael Hernández: Many thanks to the six panelists for their wide-ranging and truly enticing answers and statements. We are sure that they will make it possible for the audience to take it from here, virtually but no less actively. Let us now listen to the comments and questions of part of the audience of this remote edition of Último Jueves.
THE AUDIENCE HAS THE FLOOR
Rodolfo A. Rensoli Medina (artist and cultural promoter): It is essential to have a politics-culture and culture-politics dialogue at all levels, but I think that politics should follow up more on what is self-described or can be described as culture, since it is the one in charge of getting results regarding social welfare.
Artists are very often unconcerned about how their artwork is portrayed in the political imaginary, and at times there is some compulsion among politicians to represent in that imaginary what the artists produce and describe as art. We are lucky to have an institutional system that sprouts from the grassroots, albeit this is also a risk because sometimes our agents are not sufficiently schooled in matters of art to fiddle with everything that calls itself art or, in some cases, come from seemingly similar fields which make this kind of relationship all the more difficult. We know that not all countries in the world have that. Sometimes their city halls call for bids at some point to fund projects, and other times it is their companies and corporations that support the arts.
Someone said here that one of the accomplishments of the Cuban cultural policy was precisely the professionalization of the artists. Are we not running the risk of justifying an occupational status with such a narrow conception?
We all come from a historical context in which the prevailing cultural production leads us to recover what is supposed to belong to us. This is dangerous, because all of a sudden we jump from one artistic mode to another that was generally conceived from the power structure. Sometimes a given artistic production is glorified abroad which may be objectionable to us, and vice versa. This is another risk that a dialogistic relationship entails.
My second question to the panel is whether there is any dynamic in place, now that there is more autonomy at municipal level, to fund and support projects designed by artists or groups and therefore contribute to the cultural remodeling of our communities. I would also like to know whether it is possible to use a reflective, coherent and conducive corpus to design a strategy aimed at making our own values international, in tune with the Cuban State policy on the arts.
Finally, would it not be dangerous that UNEAC and AHS are rotating on their own axes when they canonize their members as “artistic avant-garde”?
Mayra Sánchez (researcher with the Group for Esthetic-Philosophic Studies of the Institute of Philosophy): As has already been stated, and rightly so, politics goes beyond the institutions. From Foucault we learned that power is a tangle of complex relations that spread throughout the entire social sphere, where institutions, relations and symbolic meanings interlace with one another. According to Rancière, politics distributes the sensible, which means that it decides what is said and who says it, who has the right to be heard and who should not even try, how the bodies move and how they are seen, etc. It is at that level of political things that I wanted to make this comment.
The system of culture in our country exists thanks to and for the artists. In other words, culture is linked to a specific sector and is fundamentally understood as professional artistic culture. Behind this view is an epistemological oversight. We should bear in mind that, even if an institutional approach to the arts, born out of the process of autonomy that capitalist modernity facilitated, has become widespread, art has always been a historical and anthropological part of human life, and right now it has many ways of developing outside the world’s official legitimating circuits.
I had the privilege of living through the glorious days of the Culture Houses and the splendors of the Amateur Movement, and I could feel its effects on my own personal history. Unfortunately, those days are gone, and there is plenty that could be said about the reasons for that decline and its many contributing factors, including the pressing economic situation of the last decades which, of course, we should not overlook. Still, the art-politics relationship should not only include the artistic avant-garde. It would make no sense in a country and system like ours.
Along those lines of reflection, I would like to ask: have we not excluded the common people from the political distribution of culture resulting from the art-politics relationship addressed by the panel? Have we by any chance left them with anything more than the possibility of being simple spectators? Is it perhaps that non-professional popular art is not also demanding a reflection on its relationship with politics?
Guille Vilar (journalist, cultural promoter, radio and TV scriptwriter and director, music critic): In my opinion, art and politics are very closely intertwined inasmuch as both have direct influence on people’s sensitivity. I think that when an artist follows the same logic as a politician, everything runs on the right path, especially when they have similar views. Like, for example, when Fidel received [Cuban singer-songwriters] Pablo and Silvio in the 1980s. Rather than the mere welcome of two artists by a head of State, it was an agreement of views, which made these two singers more sympathetic and committed to the Cuban people.
Daniel Rafuls (professor of the University of Havana): This is an excellent opportunity to discuss an issue that is ancient but at the same time highly topical in Cuba. It is great that every panelist combined historical concepts with the current social practice. Obviously, the Cuban experience has always been marked, at all stages of the revolutionary period, by the conflict between art as an expression of social conscience and politics as a space within the superstructure tasked with making the greatest decisions about the course that our citizens are formally called to take.
However, in some of the comments I noticed an imbalance in making the politicians more accountable for their incompetence, poor qualifications and stubbornness—and of course, for obvious reasons related to the power levels in the conflicting art-politics relationship in Cuba—than they do the artists for their social commitment. In this connection, beyond my acknowledgment of the need for a radical and unavoidable improvement of the cadre policy in the field of culture, I wonder: how to deal with those artists who use freedom of expression as an excuse and alienate themselves, consciously or otherwise, from the political, mass and social organizations established in the country as evidence of the objective existence of class struggle in the field of culture and, instead, embrace shadows, coarse language, visual extravagance, the objectification of women as sexual tools at the disposal of the ever-domineering male, or the use of national symbols as part of any kind of performance, even if it is rejected by the majority? How to deal with those creators who pay for their intellectual contributions and defend what they do with money coming from people who want and do anything to destroy our political system?
Ovidio D’Ángelo (Psychology and Sociology Research Center): Art has an extraordinary ability to mobilize cultural and political development in general because it uses various visual, verbal, corporeal and other channels to achieve, by different means, people’s general understanding of, and interaction with, their contemporary social milieu.
Even if the arts are a component of culture, I think that in this regard the stress should be on the culture of dialogue, which needs a different and more responsible, well-founded, reasonable and critical approach by the participants, be they citizens, artists or politicians. This is where we would need new mechanisms that we can still improve to foster our people’s leading and truly far-reaching role in anything related to everyday life, art and culture in general. I believe this is where our best chances stand to attain the level of human development that we need.
Denia García Ronda (Nicolás Guillén Foundation and journal Temas): There should be a systematic dialogue between the politicians (not only the policymakers in cultural institutions) and the intelligentsia (not only artists and writers, but also economists, sociologists and social scientists) about topics ranging from guild-related issues such as copyright matters, freedom of expression, etc., to those directly linked to society’s development, like, say, the design and implementation of cultural and other policies of national interest. And not only between officials from institutions and organizations, but with as many creators as possible.
The participation of artistic associations such as UNEAC or AHS in the policy definition and decision-making processes is important, but always from the guilds they represent and on the basis of consensus as to what they can contribute, not as a state or a party organization would do. Only then a dialogue will be really dialogue.
Now, in order to be effective, it must rely on a substantive participation-interconnection-mutual confidence triad, without harboring prejudices or assuming that the intellectuals are society’s critical conscience. Rather than their right, it is their duty to use their experiences and reflections to point out mistakes and wrong practices, much as it is to praise the right ones, in order to contribute to the success of the policies.
Manuel Alonso (economic consultant): With their intense imagination, the artists go systematically beyond any bounds. In their overbearing thirst for control and dogmatism, many Cuban politicians, from their positions of power, tend constantly to hinder and restrict any human and divine activity. A clash of both interests is unavoidable as some submit to the siege, others rebel against it, and still others run away or stray from it. All this has extremely negative fallout on society, as people start to revere the works of some artists, almost in secret, and to reject others for many different reasons. Harmonizing the interests of politicians and artists because of their diverse interests and views is a difficult but not an impossible task. In my humble opinion, if they both reconcile their interests a little and give up their intransigent controlling, commanding and dogmatic attitude, both the people and themselves will stand to gain from it all.
Antonio Barreiro (researcher with the Institute of Philosophy): The analysis of the art-politics relationship, in Cuba and elsewhere, considers the art-institutions-government dimension through very specific aspects: editorial policies, censorship mechanisms, the role of cultural industries, etc. I found Osvaldo Doimeadiós’s insight about its realization, starting from what must be established at the grassroots level among creators and between them and their audiences and the community. This is where art’s diverse functions appear more clearly and directly and, within them, those which converge for the good of spiritual growth and provide spaces for art to influence the development of its environment and community.
The recognition of the artists and their works of art goes through complex mechanisms, either intrinsic or extrinsic to culture, that depend on several factors. It has to take into account not only the general cultural, artistic and esthetic level of the decision-makers, but also the artist’s capacity for and means of approaching the institutions. In addition to their educational level, many other variables play a role in this process and must be considered, even the artist’s personality, as well as qualities typical of art’s nature.
Not always is the conception of the world materialized in the work of art compatible with the postulates and attitudes that its creator upholds throughout his life and in his political relations. A clever cultural policy and a daring political leader make it possible to distinguish and separate one from the other and, therefore, to take a stance on the work of art and another on its creator. The artists, in turn, does not exist only for their profession or their purpose in life; they are also parents, neighbors and citizens who live in society, so they have rights and duties not only as artists but also as individuals. So not all their interactions with the institutions fall within the art-politics relationship.
In regard to the above comments, I have the following question: is the principle of political rationality unknown in the art-politics relationship in Cuba or has it been used at some point?
Mayra Espina (sociologist): This is a very interesting debate that I joined precisely because it is about dialogue. Beyond the art-politics relationship, I believe our society should be based on dialogues among all sorts of actors, although it is still very far from getting there. We need that, so the subject of a dialogue between art and politics becomes truly relevant within another set of dialogues. All citizens should have choices, not just to speak out or be consulted, but also to participate in direct debates through as many ways as possible.
I am speaking of dialogue here in the sense that some panelists have mentioned, not as a sign of total agreement but as a respectful relationship to disclose and put on the table differences and contradictions so that the parties can find some common ground for constructive cooperation as part of a project, without ruling out criticism, discussion, and independence to give opinions.
This being said, I would like to know your views on two topics that I consider very important. Could one of the problems be the existence of too many restrictive institutional regulations, which we would be well advised to reduce? I do not mean to dismantle a cultural policy that has more bright lights than dark spots, but to make its development and implementation less bureaucratic and its requirements more flexible. As it is, it often leads to censorship and tense relations between the parties involved.
Secondly, I would like you to comment on the effects of the instrumentalization of the arts and on the way artists are sacralized or disqualified and its impact on the overall process of artistic production in general.
Tania García Lorenzo (economist): It is true that several Último Jueves panels have addressed this topic, and I am sure there will be many more of them because it is a matter of the utmost importance. This is about consolidating a culture of dialogue, which is a different cultural policy. Nowadays we have technical advisory boards, summon academic and scientific institutions, and engage different fields of knowledge. Such a worldview is extremely necessary to the art-politics, culture-politics and all other social relations, because society is not the same as it was sixty years ago. This new political culture needs to accept that we have to coexist with a diversity of views and with permanent consensus building and rebuilding processes, because art is a work of the spirit. Failure to understand this fact will dash the possibilities of having a dialogue.
Any truly constructive and informal dialogue is contingent on the convergence of its goals. To me, the main problem is not being aware of its need. If we look at it merely as a reception of ideas or as catharsis, we are not dealing with a cultural process that is likely to solve any problem.
It is about paying attention to settle things together, not explaining. Like the panelists said, it is a matter of getting involved and build roads together. I agree with them in that dialogue entails mutual respect and social responsibility on the part of all participants, and no disqualifications, because rank-pulling makes it impossible to achieve this. Every act of censorship is a defeat, because social consensus must always be changing and renewing itself and, therefore, we need to identify the root cause of any problem. As you said here, first we have to understand reality in order to understand its representation.
At any rate, the willingness to dialogue must be part of the exchange and decision-making processes and proved by its outcome. We often hear that “those who make the decisions are not here”, or “we come here, have our say, and nothing happens in the end”. It is because dialogue needs a systemic reflection that brings to light its results and effects.
Daybel Pañellas (Professor of Psychology, University of Havana): I have two questions, but first some comments to make myself clear. When you think about the questions and answers heard here, they seem appropriate and applicable to other social fields and sectors, such as the intellectuals and, particularly, the academics and the scientists. In fact, I have been able to establish from research works done until March this very year that the social imaginary still contains a conflicting portrayal of politics and academia, even if various social groups hold that those sectors are having more dialogues. So my question is, why do you believe that art and the artists are seen as an emerging group that champions such displeasure?
And two: the intellectuals—again, I am including the academics and scientists—and even other social groups, say, the self-employed, the workers, share a prototypical image of the art sector that is linked to multiple liberties and legalities related to freedom of expression, the chance of making money and moving around in many different and even contradictory spaces, unlike, for instance, the case of academia.
Do you think this is systematically fair, healthy, relevant, and harmonious? Do you think these clear differences should be reproduced? What could make it possible for art and the artists to have these kinds of “advantages”, in a manner of speaking?
Helmo Hernández (Ludwig Foundation of Cuba): We should bear in mind that in Cuba, in the midst of this horrible summer of 2021, we are all full-time politicians. That is to say, political participation in this society, one way or another, is extraordinary and surprisingly meaningful. We will have been defeated the day that we let neutrality or indifference get the better of us. I would rather speak, like Che Guevara, of the relationship between art and officialdom. It is actually from this contradiction that disagreement arises, owing to bureaucratic leadership styles, lack of mutual understanding (largely due to cultural reasons) and of course, even after all those obstacles are overcome, also to differences of opinions and viewpoints. Here we would have to appeal to the convenience of the coexistence of different and even contradictory versions on the same subject or the diversity that always reveals better the complexity, and even the contradictory nature of truths.
On the surface, where we usually stay, things always seem simpler and easier to solve. That is to say, more or less to speak in terms of binary alternatives. However, on a deeper level where true Politics and Poetry reside, this is a different kettle of fish. And those are depths that we do not visit very often; no need to blame it on the banality of the networks or the show business society, etcetera.
Rafael Hernández: Many thanks to all those who intervened, about a dozen of you, who made comments and great inputs on the issues addressed, even from new angles.
Before I give the floor to the panelists for the second round of this session, I would like to refer to some questions that these interventions brought to mind.
Some of you have reiterated the subject of the artistic avant-garde.
Could we put the artistic avant-garde and the political avant-garde in parallel? If we asked how the latter is recognized, what its duties are, what its role in society is, what it must do to be recognized as such by society, what powers it has, we would surely have a very clear list of answers.
The artistic avant-garde, how do we know it is so? Is it a more creative art that sets an esthetic standard, renews codes, has a high quality, and enriches culture and thought? An art that not only renews esthetics but also the society that consumes it and enjoys it? Under what conditions is that label granted and recognized, socially speaking? It is not a question of who qualifies the artists from the professional viewpoint, but under what conditions this artistic avant-garde is identified as all this or as something else. That question underlies some of the interventions.
Several comments touched upon the subject of the artists' social responsibility, their commitment to human development, their role in and contribution to critical awareness, and their ability to participate in and enrich cultural policies. Under what conditions and on what basis can we measure social responsibility and art’s commitment to human development? Naturally, all the participants agree that it is not a question of sticking to a particular political agenda, but one of being committed to society, the artists' place therein, and their relationship and exchange with society and not only with political institutions.
The last question has to do precisely with the issue of how artists place themselves in relation to institutions, not only to the society of which they are part. Now, the other side of the coin is that of the attributions of the politicians and the question of control. We can make a list of the attributions of the artists: freedom of expression and creation, the right to “overstep bounds”, as has been said here. What is the responsibility not only of the politicians, but of society, in terms of social control? About control in a negative sense, as in censorship, as in imposing rigid rules, there must be a great consensus. The question is how to see it in relation to the self-regulating functions of a society, that is, in the artist’s conversation and relationship with that society. Is social control necessary? Is it intrinsically inconvenient, or else indispensable? A distinction similar to that of bureaucratism and bureaucracy: administration is indispensable, as is the tendency to empower the administrative apparatus, that is, bureaucratization is what stands as a negative element. What is the role of society in social control over artistic production?
I give the floor again to our panelists for their comments.
THE PANELISTS ANSWER
Orlando García: The relationship between power and art opens up a very broad spectrum of perceptions and opinions that it is important to narrow down a bit. The participation of the artistic avant-garde is understood, in our case, as works of higher quality. Its members do not necessarily have to members of an organization like UNEAC or AHS, but, in fact, being part of them—UNEAC specifically has a selective character—gives them a greater possibility of seeking a democratic and plural vision when it comes to approaching that relationship with society.
I agree that this dialogue with the politicians cannot be limited only to the artistic avant-garde, inasmuch as they are part, just like the politicians, of the Cuban society’s intelligentsia, which needs to have a plural and democratic voice in order to achieve precisely a broad participation of the different social actors.
In our specific case, in the province of Cienfuegos, we have had plenty of dialogue. Above all, we have seen how our opinion has been taken into account, but not in a straight line. We have had to face difficulties, but the fact that we are grouped together has allowed us to have a more fluid dialogue, because it has to be done on the basis of consensus.
I second the remarks about the need to broaden that dialogue and give a greater voice to the different participants in the field of art and literature, especially those who are part of the artistic avant-garde based on their quality and those engaged in constant search and more experimental creation.
It seems to me that what is missing from our dialogue with the politicians or with people tasked with that public assignment is precisely a closer link to the grassroots, a closer attention to the voice not only of those whose work is already established, but also that of the emerging artists who have new visions and adapt better to the very context in which they are rising and developing their talent.
It is very important that the relationship with the authorities be also strengthened through the institutional system of culture and materialized in an action plan that solves the problems presented from different points of view and perspectives, which are not necessarily the same everywhere. For example, in a province like Cienfuegos, where almost the whole intellectual movement is legitimized at the local level, it often happens that you have to go to Havana to make your work really known at thr national and international levels. In our case, we realize that this relationship does not flow with the necessary transparency and good intention to solve the problems of creation and, above all, promotion among various audiences, because sometimes taste prevails over the real cultural policy, which is far-reaching, democratic and plural.
I agree with some of the speakers in that, sometimes, the approach to artistic and literary production excludes popular expressions, in the sense of not seeing them as part of the culture, and, more than that, as what they mean as an essential element of the national identity.
We must work so that the Cuban cultural policy, conceptually well-defined and which we all support, translates into concrete actions that respond to the conscious participation of citizens in the reception of the artistic and literary act and cover all audiences.
Magda González Grau: I think every participant has made excellent inputs. I am going to refer to some of the things that caught my attention. Mayra Sanchez worries that we may have forgotten the common citizens and turned them into mere spectators of all these processes. This is not the case, at least in my personal experience. In one of the last battles that we have waged, that of independent cinema, we went to great lengths to make it possible for someone who perhaps never graduated from our art schools or was a member of any institution could make a film and be able to develop a given talent for audiovisual production. The ways to get there are enshrined in every legislation we prepared. So in the specific case of cinema, I can say that there is no forgetfulness, on the contrary, no one was excluded.
Regarding what Daniel Rafuls and Antonio Barreiro say about the responsibility of creators, which Rafael takes up again at the end, that is correct, they do have a commitment to society and to play a role in it. They have an obligation, as it is somehow in some forms of expression, to reflect behaviors and conflicts ranging from the sensorial to the sentimental, as categories with which art works, especially to encourage a way of thinking that always leads those spectators to be better human beings. For me, this entails a commitment to society.
I totally agree that those rights and duties have to be implicit in the attitude of artists as citizens and in their work. What happens is that sometimes we get confused and believe that we must simply obey, seeing it as one of our duties, to be within the established parameters, but that does not work in the field of art. Art is meant to transgress, to motivate, to say things ahead of the processes, even social ones. In other words, art has always been ahead of the laws, of the social conflicts themselves, so I think that yes, we have to make concessions in that respect, based on a great deal of commitment and responsibility to the works intended to say something until then unsanctioned.
Then my teacher, Denia García Ronda, and later Mayra Espina, talked about real participation, which I consider as crucial. It is true that, many times, things do not go beyond the ‘We-will-seek-advice-on-this’ stage, and then they give you a document that is going to become law. One issue regarding real participation is that of being present starting from the decision-making stage, namely to know what the law will cover and what we want it to include, not only to consult on a matter that is already a fait accompli. The artists have to really participate in the construction of these processes, not just be consulted. Such is one of the virtues of Decree Law 373 (Film Law), whose every content was built, from the beginning, in the image and likeness of the creators, and I see it as an extraordinary experience. That is why I think it will work for a long time, because, on the other hand, we also made it flexible enough so that the circumstances, which are always changing somehow, would allow us to maintain that legislation and it did not become an obstacle to new contexts.
Then came Tania, who spoke of systematic dialogue. It is not good when a dialogue only takes place when we meet at an event or a congress. It has to be a systematic and regular thing to discuss everything that happens on a daily basis in our premises.
Daybel made a point on a very important and essential issue, to wit, the art-academia and art-social sciences relationships. The creators must enjoy the same freedoms as the scientists and academics, since both sectors play a key role in the development of society. Just as an example, I am going to talk about Calendario, the series I am currently editing, the result of a social research work conducted by the Center for Youth Studies. This work reflected how young people saw teachers, and the scriptwriter and I, who were at that meeting, decided that we needed an audiovisual material capable of changing the status quo. That is why it is essential to draw on the research and works of academics and social scientists, so that art is not locked inside an ivory tower, but really connected to that responsibility, if you will excuse the repetition, that our creators are being demanded to honor and which I find absolutely valid.
I end with what Rafael said at the end about the right to “overstep bounds”. I do not think that we artists have that right, although we do have the right to draw those bounds together with the rest of society. Those bounds cannot be defined on a desk or by politics. They must even change on a regular basis, much like the circumstances do, through permanent discussion and dialogue. I find it really scary—not because I am against it; I think it would be perfect—that a Decree-Law mandates the Ministry of Culture to write the cultural policy. However, it has to be flexible enough and, besides, it cannot end up in a shelf. Instead, it has to help the dialogue to be permanent and make sure that the bounds derived from it can change depending on the existing circumstances and realities.
Fernando Rojas: I was reviewing the initial intervention I sent to Último Jueves, and I was happy to see that I did not pontificate on the avant-garde, a well-worn and sometimes misused subject, as Rafael pointed out. Even if I believe that there is a pace-setting avant-garde with top quality products under its belt, I insist that critique must play the leading role in defining these issues by guiding and giving tools to the viewer. As an expression, the public, which as I said in my opening remarks, is not a passive receiver, but one that develops itself and faces challenges, can be perfectly understood as the people. As Dr. Denia Garcia Ronda rightly said, it must be an active participant in cultural life, or as Mayra Sanchez said, play the leading role in popular creation.
I did not distinguish either between professional and amateur artists; it is very important that Rensoli and Mayra Sanchez talked about it, much as it is important and fair to say that the Cuban Amateur Movement has seen better days. I must say, however, that we have eleven thousand art instructors—more than ever before—working in schools and communities and developing appreciation skills, something essential for our audiences, particularly the youngest ones, from where new crops of amateur artists should emerge, of course.
It is very much to the point that Rensoli mentioned the need to find new forms of production and promotion, particularly on a local level, and that should be resolved. I think there are interesting practices under way in local development projects and thanks to the greater management autonomy of the municipalities and to the emergence of new projects, as well as other very interesting experiences, among which the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) stands out with its Film Promotion Fund. But we are also doing this in other cultural institutions, granting funds to creators so that they can be their own producers, even though they can get funds from any other source or any other of our economic players. This is a novel revolutionary experience with a great future as a new form of production. In the Cuban performing arts, two of the most successful and, at the same time, high-level plays released in the last times—Osvaldo Doimeadiós’s Oficio de Isla and Carlos Celdrán’s Hierro—were produced precisely under this concept of granting funds to the directors and allowing them to produce their own plays.
Rensoli, by the way, also referred very cleverly to the fact that the imposition, thenfluence of a single, hegemonic thought related to the impact of the market does not have geographical boundaries, that is, it can also develop right in our midst, much as it is a right of our people, an obligation of the institutions and a concern among every one of us, that we make the best achievements of national and universal culture available to the majority of the people.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the comments related to the participation of the artists themselves, from which the need for their commitment can also derive, as Daniel Rafuls, Rafael and other panelists remarked. In this connection, I found it very interesting that Antonio Barreiro talked about the need to distinguish between the work of art and the attitude of the creator, something also related perhaps to the discomforts that Daybel mentioned further along the session.
Our dear Mayra Espina criticized the bureaucratic procedures that we certainly have in, and must banish from, our institutions. To this end, we have made improvements in the structures of the Cuba cultural institutions, as evidenced in the last few years by the reduction of staffing levels by the thousands. This is beginning to become noticeable in the reduction of institutions and enterprises and the merging of some of them for the sake of greater flexibility in the production mechanisms, as I said before.
In this sense, I would also like to recall one of Antonio Barreiro's remarks when he asked about the use of political rationality in the relationship between institutions and artists. We must admit that it has been implemented, albeit not always in a proper manner. This is a well-known fact that we are and will keep working on.
I meditated at length about the relationship between art and politics and between academia and politics, with respect to Daybel’s very clever comparisons, and I agree with what Magda Gonzalez Grau just said. We should ask ourselves who is in discomfort and why, and whether the word discomfort is enough, for example, to cover issues that are fair demands of the artists, such as those Magda has just mentioned; or others, such as the fact that, for example, they are not taken into account when we make certain decisions about budget allocations for production. These are all legitimate claims, but not so much those unrelated to the need for a fruitful relationship between the artists, the institutions and the audiences that call into question the constitutional order of the country, especially if in some cases they come from people who receive funds from U.S. federal agencies.
I will dwell a little more on the idea of the prototypical image mentioned by Daybel, and I must say that for some years now we in the institutions, and the artists themselves, have noticed that this image is not the same anymore. I will give you some recent examples. In our latest discussions, which have been many in recent months, the artists have repeatedly argued that they feel they have fewer opportunities with respect to the new forms of management of the economy or the new forms of non-state management. At the same time, and perhaps we could reflect about this in greater depth once we overcome the pandemic, there are news in this respect about the domestic art market, as we knew it until a couple of years ago, in the sense that a significant number of artists made considerable amounts of convertible Cuban pesos, the now extinct CUCs, in tourist facilities, meals and other related activities. I am totally convinced that this will happen again in the way we knew it, and that is why it is so important that the Cuban State commits itself to protecting and supporting a group of artists in the current epidemiological circumstances.
It seemed to me that Manuel Alonso drew a somewhat gloomy picture of the situation, at a time when this country, with all its economic problems, is second to none, neither in contemporary dance, nor in the visual arts, much less in music. Cuban artistic production and the creativity of our artists are still on a par with the best of the world, not to speak of comparisons with developing countries, which does not mean, of course, that we do not have many things to solve, much, as Mayra Espina said, in terms of having sufficient critical capacity to avoid sacralizations and disqualifications.
I apologize to Guille Vilar, Tania García and Ovidio D'Ángelo for not talking directly with them because I felt quite identified with everything they said.
Jennifer Hosek: I especially want to respond to Magda Gonzalez Grau's comment about the link between art and social research. I think the role of art in education is super important to approach the topics in ways other than the traditional ones. I remember teaching about slavery in the United States through a novel like Beloved, by Toni Morrison, because it is possible for students to learn about or understand a little the subjectivity of an enslaved person.
Another topic addressed here was censorship, and I want to give a second example of the use of art. Some artists have made well-intentioned works; others not. For instance, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) and Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will) are censored in Germany, except for academic use, and they play a very important role in education to explain how those messages worked in their time and how they are constructed. This is another way of teaching, using very problematic artistic works to open a dialogue and disempower their difficult messages.
Osvaldo Doimeadiós: I think that this topic sparked a very fruitful debate, so I recommend the organizers to revisit it at another time. I agree with the views stated in the discussion about how to legitimatimize, from the verticality of our institutions, the status of “artistic avant-garde”. What criteria should govern such a selection? What should be the level of commitment to the very essence of the work and its effectiveness for communication? How can we define a revolutionary work today from the perspective of creation and institutionalism? Is the simple fact of belonging to an institution enough to save us?
Are those designs of institution and regulation of artistic work the ones we need right now? In what other directions should they move? Are they tailored to the creative needs that the present moment and our economic situation demand?
Fernando Rojas referred to the establishment of other forms of management at institutional level to boost creation. This is how shows such as Hierro, by Carlos Celdrán, and Oficio de Isla, which I directed, saw the light of day. In our experience, this way of producing paved the way for further alliances. The way we linked here the economic with its social impact in a complex setting attracted other audiences and, therefore, art’s entire political strategy became stronger with the creation of a framework for a critical dialogue with the present. These ways of doing which are now starting to bear fruit in film and television projects—and which I am going to describe as de-bureaucratized—and revealing possible forms of Alliance between artists and politicians have been long claimed by the artists.
The possibility of developing a more critical spectator, less lethargic and much more participatory: that is where I try to channel my work. I like the way Professor Jennifer Hosek summarizes it by saying that “art still has a voice”.
It is up to us as creators and to every creative community to use our practical experience to model our own participation strategies, beyond the suitability and relevance of the people who rule over culture today. It is a fact that we have accumulated many problems that could have been settled in the past and still belong to the patrimonial jurisdiction of Cuban bureaucratism, or as I like to call it, “repertory meetings", those that we rerun year after year as if it were the first time.
Gretel Arrate: I read all the interventions and I consider them absolutely reasonable and important for their contributions to a subject as valid as it is rich in problems to be discussed. I think that one of the important issues mentioned here is the need for dialogue to go through all possible spaces of the artistic world and other fields of knowledge and even beyond. It would be very helpful to, and make more dynamic, the society we are building. On the other hand, in order for this dialogue to be truly significant, it is important to work carefully on our cadre policy. This is crucial, as executive officials must be well-informed on the field under their responsibility, and if they are experts on the matter so much the better! We often see people who hold important positions and, therefore, make decisions, whose lack of knowledge completely distorts the profile of the relevant activity. This is something that any artist dreads, as those cadre end up destroying whatever progress was made. It is also necessary to revise the commitments to what was agreed, as many times nothing goes beyond the planning stage, hence the incredulity of many. The dialogue must take place on a macrolevel, be it in big conferences designed to that effect, congresses and national meetings held in the capital city, but it must also be extended, in the same organized way, to the provinces, the municipalities and even the last town of this country, with the freedom and respect that it deserves. This is not exactly the case. Any official or politician must be prepared to welcome and process a dialogue wherever they are, even in the smallest corner of this country. This can be done through our institutional network, as it is a strong and powerful weapon that serves as a vehicle in the work of culture and that should be used more often.
A dialogue held in the spirit of compromise in our society, where the political codes are part of us as social entities, will open a door to the future as long as we count on everyone.
Rafael Hernandez: To conclude, I would like to mention that we are dealing with a subject in a context that is not only Cuban, but universal. Our thanks to Jennifer Hosek for giving us that other angle; to Fernando Rojas, for his views as a director at the Ministry of Culture and someone who is faced with complicated problems related to the development of a dialogue with different sectors of the world of art and literature; to creators like Magda Gonzalez Grau, whose experience gives her a chance to leave a mark, together with other colleagues, on the new frameworks available to audiovisual production in Cuba; and of course to Orlando Garcia, for sharing with us his experience in the province of Cienfuegos.
We could refer to our current situation in very simple terms, for instance, that the politicians do want the artists to get involved in and cooperate with a debate of ideas participate through their works. Many artists, perhaps more than in other countries, are interested and motivated to do so. It is precisely under these circumstances, which we could describe as very favorable, that both sides want things to happen, that other questions arise on top of those already asked by either the audience or the panelists themselves.
When we talk about the relationship between art and politics, we are referring to the works of art and their political meaning. What is political about a work of art? Is it the explicitly political? Obviously, the answer is no. This is not only about works conveying an explicit political message, but about the intrinsic nature of a work of art in relation to its surrounding society and the problems that it chose to address.
What is the civic responsibility of artists? What makes artists different, within the body of citizens, in terms of their civic responsibility, exercised through their status as artists? This brings us to the very question of the political culture of the artists. Do we take their political culture for granted? Do we assume it to be homogeneous? Or heterogeneous, not only because it is diverse, but for its different effects on different fields of art, on different guilds, as has been said here?
Questions were raised about the cultural and educational level of the politicians, say, what their patters of artistic consumption are, what they like to consume as simple citizens on the receiving end of cultural work, and how much command of artistic culture they have. But we could ask the same question about the general culture of other intellectuals, their humanistic formation, which in a broad sense of the term among some of our speakers today includes all professionals who use their intellect, and even those who are not professionals. What is their cultural level, what are the ingredients of cultural formation in different professions, sectors, guilds, in today's Cuba?
What characterizes their general culture, a concept that we usually hear and seem to share about the need to develop general culture among those educated to become intellectuals?
All these problems are typical of the issues that we are discussing. It would be worthwhile, as has been said here, that everyone, not only the artists and the politicians or those who participate in a given dialogue, addresses these other issues. Perhaps this also has to do with the consideration of cultural policies as something that is not done by any particular organization, but as a process that includes civil society and its organizations and institutions, as well as others not tasked with the design of cultural policies but also make them, to the extent that they have an impact on this condition and on the culture of society.
Thank you very much to all those who listened, participated and spoke.
Traductor: Jesús Bran
ÚLTIMO JUEVES sessions scheduled for 2021
JULY 29: On the way to re-normalize relations with the United States?
SEPTEMBER 30: Causes and vagaries of crime
OCTOBER 28: Leave, go, turn around, return
NOVEMBER 25: Post-pandemic economic and social recovery
YOU CAN FIND US IN:
Official website of the journal Temas, specialized in social sciences and humanities. Includes all issues published so far and information about other events such as the Temas Essay Award, Último Jueves, Ediciones Temas, etc.
Temas’ page on Facebook. Up-to-date information about activities of the journal.
Último Jueves’ page on Facebook. A space for monthly discussions about current cultural, social and ideological issues that have an impact on Cuba and the world.
Temas’ page on Twitter.
Temas’ channel on YouTube.
Último Jueves’ podcast channel, where you can find full audios of each of its sessions.
Group on Telegram devoted to sharing all the content generated by Ediciones Temas, the journal Temas, and the Último Jueves sessions.