by Leann Lo, MFA-1 student in CalArts’ Creative Writing Program
Artists from CalArts and Academia Nacional de Artes San Alejandro in La Habana (Havana), Cuba, have worked together to produce the three-part exhibition series, El Acercamiento/The Approach. A project of CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP)/Duende CalArts, El Acercamiento is a collaboration between student and professional artists from CalArts as well as a multinational group of visual artists, performers, musicians, singers, poets, art historians and dancers.
The first installment of El Acercamiento took place in Cuba during the week President Barack Obama made his historic trip to the country in March. (The LA component opens this weekend). In Habana, the current process of normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States is termed “el acercamiento”—the slow and cautious act of getting closer. Giving shape to a multiplicity of potential futures, the art pieces included urban interventions, performative actions, sound pieces and visual art works.
El Acercamiento is the design of CalArts School of Theater faculty member Evelyn Serrano as part of her Arts and Activism and Arts and Community Engagement classes at CalArts. Months of research and preparation went into the art pieces, as well as the trip itself, and finally seeing their vision come to fruition was a high point for Serrano and her students. “Arriving in La Habana and finally meeting all of our Cuban collaborators face-to-face was the start of a true acercamiento, a closeness that we had started building over many months prior to our trip. Communication with our Cuban collaborators was filled with challenges, so being able to finally meet them in person and being able to speak with them freely and have an honest conversation was an incredible highlight.”
The exhibition in La Habana was a success, but more than that, it revealed the challenges, opportunities, privileges and oppressions that have shaped the sociopolitical encounters (or lack thereof) between the two countries and its citizens. “I remember one of my students telling me about what they took away from the trip, and she said, ‘I need to be more loving. I need to show love more.’ The people in Cuba did whatever was necessary to make us feel that that was our home and that they were our family, and now, I think, the students feel they have family in Cuba,” said Serrano.
Each exhibition will continue to morph and change to reflect the diverse contexts in which the pieces have been shared, as well as the evolution of the artists’ interactions with the public and with the other collaborators. The exhibition in LA—which opens on Saturday (May 7) at the Plaza de la Raza Boathouse Gallery—features both U.S. and Cuban collaborators, but some of the artwork will have changed or evolved.
“The work in LA has a level of process documentation that the one in La Habana didn’t have,” said Serrano. “It includes several pieces that were the result of direct collaborations in La Habana. The works have evolved, in the same way that our experiences and knowledge of Cuba-US relations continue to evolve. The project has become a civic and artistic laboratory that allows us to try things out, ask lots of new questions, and challenge what is possible.”
Serrano emphasized the importance of artists taking part in political dialogue and that the purpose of the trip and exhibition was not simply about the art work, but “the human work” as well.
“The students understood how momentous this work was, and how important it was to be part of a dialogue that will help build a bridge between the US and Cuba,” she said. “[It’s work] made from honesty, generosity and solidarity.”
El Acercamiento/The Approach
May 7-June 11
Opening reception on May 7 at 6 pm
Plaza de la Raza, Boathouse Gallery
3540 N. Mission Road, Los Angeles