CityX - Yo, Habana
Art Project 2016/19
April 2015 saw the leaders of the USA and Cuba, Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, shake hands for the first time in almost 60 years, and officially discuss improving relations between the two states. Despite their differences, it was a moment revealing both nations’ strong urge to leave the Cold War behind them and draw closer for the good of the people.
The hope that Cuba may also want to open up to Europe drove Stuttgart artist Doris Graf to contact the Cuban Ministry about doing a CityX in Havana. In February 2016, with no prior appointment or any great expectations, the artist knocked on the door of the Ministry of Culture in Cuba to present her case. From that moment on, any uncertainties she had previous felt disappeared. Doris Graf was met there by Ms Ana Margarita Morejón Padrón with exemplary hospitality and openness. Some time later, the artist was pleased to receive an official invitation from the “Ministerio de Cultura de Cuba, Relaciones Internacionales”.
With additional support from the German embassy in Havana, the “CityX – Yo, Habana” project was officially launched in Cuba in spring 2017.
The artist gained very positive experiences, learning what “international solidarity” meant. The locals took her by the hand and showed her around public squares, book fairs, artist studios, schools and academies, and submitted the best-quality drawings she had ever collected as part of a CityX project: Declarations of love to the city, wishes, dreams and open criticism.
“La Habana no cabe en un cuadrado”, Havana doesn’t fit in a box, is written on one of the forms received, where the drawing takes over the whole page and extends beyond the borders the drawing square.
The pictograms resulting from the drawings also illustrate the artist’s unique experience: The outer border of the pictures is topped with the city’s official coat of arms, and the colour blue – with which many of the city’s residents identify – predominates.
Translating the drawings, created by the people about and for their city, into pictograms is something Doris Graf describes as a “process of artist appropriation”. And this appropriation process, in which the artist virtually learns to see through the “eyes” of a city’s residents, requires great tact and compassion. She often has to very quickly get her bearings in a completely alien environment, make contact with people, and gain their trust. Seen this way, the term “appropriation” takes on new meaning – it’s not just a case of taking, but also accepting.
Finally, the Havana Book Fair at the “Feria Internacional del Libro, Salón Infantil” saw the Cubans award the artist the “Distinctión a la Humilidad, Dora Alonso” award for humility – a virtue which earns recognition in Latin America.
According to a so-called artistic appropriation process, Doris Graf used the drawings produced in Havana to develop an image of the city in the form of pictographic visualisations.