aicI will be taking part in an interesting conversation at the Connected and Consequential national conference of Artists in Context in Boston, March 7th & 8th.  Here’s the programme!

Art, Justice & Consumption

“FeFa”: Artists and the Tipping Point – Pregoneros in Cuba

Thursday March 7, 3:30 – 5:00 p.m.

Presented by:

Magdalena Campos-Pons, artist and professor at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Neil Leonard, Artistic Director of Berklee’s Interdisciplinary Arts Institute and Professor of Electronic Production and Design at Berklee College of Music

Robert Austin, Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration at the University of New Brunswick and Professor of Management of Innovation and Creativity at Copenhagen Business School.

Todd Lester, Executive Director, Global Arts Corps, and Senior Fellow, World Policy Institute

Moderated by:

Doris Sommer, Ira and Jewell Williams Professor of Romance Languages and African and African American Studies,  Director of the Cultural Agents Initiative, Harvard University

Background Information:

FeFa was an exhibition and performance created for the first solo exhibition of Maria Magdelena Campos-Pons in Cuba after 22 years of living in the U.S. The work premiered at Casa de Las Americas in February 2012 and was further developed for the Havana Biennial in May 2012, FeFa  stands for familiares en el extranjero, FE and family abroad, FA. It is both a character and a metaphor of the immigration, exile and family and community separation experienced by numerous Cuban families.  The exhibition was designed to indicate that the bonds remain strongand necessary between the Cubans of the diaspora and those who stayed in Cuba. Despite the scattered fragments of their lives, a unity remains that of family.

Prior to the opening of the exhibition, a dialog had been structured to ask ordinary Cubans whether they had family abroad, and if so, what they hoped to receive from them. Campos-Pons and her students from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts started a collection of goods in response to expressed needs and desires. LUSH, an international cosmetics company and Clear Flour Bakery, based in Massachusetts, offered goods and expertise. Hundreds of gift packets were assembled. During the opening performance in Havana, the young artists from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts distributed the gift packages and bread to the audience, bread which had been prepared by the artists and Cuban and American bakers who learned how to make bread together. The process engendered a spirit of communication between those two countries, whose relationship is often dominated by ambivalence and tension.

For the opening performance, the artists also arranged the first national pregonero ‘competition’ to juxtapose their voices with FeFa’s arrival on site, and follow her through the audience.  The pregoneros, prohibited from selling their goods openly on the street decades, had recently become authorized to sell their goods. Their street calls, which date back to African ancestry, reappeared and changed the actual sound of Cuba seemingly overnight. The voice of the pregonero, with all of their idiosyncratic elements of theater, humor, lyricism and spontaneity reminds the public that culture and its practices are anchored regardless of distances, in a strong social imaginary that is the foundation for a common experience of community that is both deep and unalterable.

The exhibition installation included video of Cuban pegoneros and original sound composed by Neil Leonard.

Presentation Content:

The collaborating artists will briefly discuss the scope and intent of “FeFa”, the collaborative project that Magda Campos-Pons and Neil Leonard developed for the Havana Biennial in May 2012. [As a result of this project, Magda and Neil have been invited to represent Cuba at the Venice Biennial in 2013]. The artists worked for many years to establish the trustnecessary to realize their vision – to open communication and inquiry between families at home and families abroad, between the Cuba and the US, as well as between Cuba’s unofficial and official cultureThis panel will focus on how, after many years of research, Magda and Neil chose to actualize their vision of open communication, including how they worked around specific “tipping points”.   One of those tipping points was the status of the pregoneros, or street vendors.  Shunned and silenced for decades, the artists reclaimed the pregoneros opportunity to speak and to sell freely. They accomplished this by positioning the pregoneros as artisans of the spoken word within their art project. They invited a group of 15 pregoneros to engage in the first competition of the pregonero as part of the opening ceremony of FeFa.  Cuba has since established a national competition of the pegoneros, presented on national television. This panel looks at the way in which artists, through years of research, observing and listening, can intuit a tipping point in the culture and create the appropriate form for that tipping point to occur. 

Referring back to the overall purpose of the conference, we want to demonstrate through this panel discussion how artists, through careful research, long-term commitment, sensitive “knowing” and open collaboration, contributed to forward movement , in this case, democratic communication in Cuba.

Key Questions:

Can the symbolic and aesthetic, coupled with grassroots actions, lead not only to notions of greater justice for people separated by economic and geopolitical boundaries but also help to reimagine the relationship between nations?