Friday May 29, 2015

Cuban Art Awards: Behind the Scenes

An inside look at last week’s debut event

At the Wifredo Lam Center on May 20, 2015.

Photo: Ladyrene Pérez

Last week, we ran the Farber Foundation press release announcing the winners of the first international Cuban Art Awards. Here’s a closer look at the event—the presenters, the winners, and the celebration after.

The invitation-only event took place at the Wifredo Lam Center of Contemporary Art in Habana Vieja, headquarters for the 12th Havana Biennial.

Cuban television news personality Julio Acanda presented the awards, with Danays Arzuaga Díaz of Cuban Art News translating into English.

As the crowd gathered, from left: New York art advisor Laura González and friend; artist Celia González Álvarez of the duo Celia & Yunior; Howard Farber of the Farber Foundation; an unidentified guest; and Danays Arzuaga Díaz, translator for the presentation, with her husband.

Photo: Cuban Art News

Howard Farber, left, with Ben Rodríguez-Cubeñas of the Cuban Artists Fund, one of the jurors for this year's awards; at far left, Alberto Magnan of Magnan Metz Gallery in New York.

Photo: Cuban Art News

The crowd was welcomed by Howard Farber, president of the Farber Foundation. “Many of you have asked us about the awards,” he said, referring to himself and his wife Patricia. “Why Cuba? And why now?”

Howard Farber welcomes the crowd.

Photo: Ladyrene Pérez

“Why Cuba—because our hearts led us here, and you continue to amaze us. Why now? Because, after all these years, we finally can.”

The Young Artist of the Year award was presented first. The finalists were Alejandro Campins, Celia and Yunior, Elizabet Cerviño, Rafael Domenech, and Carlos Martiel.

As presenter, Acanda had a playfully dramatic moment in opening the sealed blue envelope and announcing the winner: Celia and Yunior (Celia Irina González Álvarez, b. 1985, Havana; and Yunior Aguiar Perdomo, b. 1984, Havana).

Presenter Julio Acanda looks on as Celia of Celia & Yunior accepts the Young Artist of the Year award.

Photo: Ladyrene Pérez

Celia accepted for the duo, as Yunior was out of the country. Her acceptance speech was brief and gracious. Later, Yunior wrote in an email to the Farbers: “I want to thank you for creating this prize. I think it is a great initiative to support and recognize the work of Cuban artists throughout time. And of course, thank you and the jury for awarding us as Young Artist of the Year. It is a real honor!!!!!”

Finalists for the second award, Artist of the Year, were: Alexandre Arrechea, Luis Cruz Azaceta, Teresita Fernández, Glexis Novoa, and Lázaro Saavedra.

Alexandre Arrechea accepts the award for Artist of the Year.

Photo: Ladyrene Pérez

The award went to Alexandre Arrechea (b. 1970, Trinidad, Cuba), whose thanks were also brief and to the point. A few days later, at the opening of his solo show at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Arrechea reflected on the award. “I got really emotional when I received it,” he said, adding that the timing alone—with “the possibility of the relationship between the United States and Cuba being resolved”—is special in itself.

Asked about the cash prize attached to the  award—in his case, $10,000 (and $3,000 for Young Artist of the Year)—Arrechea said that it would go toward his art. “This money is going to be very useful to produce that work,” he added.

After the awards, the party began, with music by the legendary conjunto Septeto Habanero.

Septeto Habanero kicks off the celebration.

Photo: Ladyrene Pérez

Viengsay Valdés, prima ballerina of the National Ballet of Canada, was one of the guests, casting a bit of stardust through the crowd.

Viengsay Valdés, prima ballerina with the National Ballet of Cuba, chats with Martha Sánchez Martínez of Prensa Latina and choreographer Pedro Ruiz.

Photo: Cuban Art News

Septeto Habanero

Photo: Cuban Art News

The music was enough to get the crowd moving, including Patricia Farber, a longtime aficionado of Cuban dance.

Patricia Farber dances with a member of the Septeto Habanero troupe.

Photo: Ladyrene Pérez

The event was attended by international media, including Associated Press, the US-based PBS News Hour, and critic Holland Cotter of the New York Times, as well as top members of the Cuban media. Independent international reporters were also on hand, several with film crews.

By 11 p.m. that night, AP had posted a story that, over the next few days, was picked up by dozens of news outlets globally.

For more shots of the winners, the crowd, and the event, see the photo album on the Cuban Art News Facebook page.