This is the context

with Rene Francisco

The hard times of after-revolutionary censorship didn’t pass without an imprint neither for Rene Francisco nor for his generation of Cuban artists, who in difference with Francisco left the island and continued career abroad. Soon, after graduation of Instituto Superior de Arte – Havana, Rene Francisco was assigned as a professor in the same institution and surprisingly kept the position during several years ban from any kind of exhibition, provoking parents of the students to ask if his teaching practice was safe or not.

CaucasusArtMag: Your school was the first in post-revolution Cuba to introduce and teach the experimental art. It’s interesting what were the difficulties of the educational process in first years of teaching and what kind of parallels do you see with Cuba now.

Rene Francisco: The school was founded at the former place of Havana country club, the suburb of Cubanacan with the beautiful landscapes and golf fields arranged for pre-revolutionary Cuban aristocracy. That was an idea of Che Guevara as I remember. While playing a golf game he and Fidel Castro made up their minds to convert the place into the art studies center not only for Cuban, but for all the interesting young people from the developing countries. They proposed two or three at the moment promising architects like Vittorio Garatti, Roberto Gotardi and Ricardo Porro to work on the project. In this period Che Guevara was serving as a president of national bank of Cuba and made an order to build a dream. Something that people had never seen. Till today it represents one of the most notable architectures of Cuba. It’s something like between Gaudi and post-modern, very pioneering, with the context of revolution; because it was also started with the idea of new. After two years of building works the support was cut and still the campus is not completed. Luckily the school of visual art got among the finished part… It must be said that even the buildings were accused in non-relevance to social demands; Cuba was realized from the Soviet influence and the censorship common for the Soviet art itself. At that time progressing at Cuba abstract art was combined with pop art and the symbolism of revolution, to take Raul Martinez as an example…

CAM: Yesterday you mentioned that your attitudes towards the education has been changed, what does it mean?

R. F.: There was a solid number of people who would like to have information about the art schools in socialist countries. They started to teach in the beginning of 80’s with an attempt to change the history, at the same time they translated all the important writers like Habermas, Baudrillard, Foucault and gave the texts to the students. We were much influenced the technical information about the ways of art, installations, video, performances, knowledge that has never been received at the schools where one could only study painting, sculpture… It was the generation I started to work with in 1982. We combined relatively new underground information for us with the situation in Cuba and tried to move towards the critical ways of thinking. We started to make installations in the streets, performances, and actions on the thematic of the revolution, of the history, communism philosophy and its ideology. All of us believed in the idea that through the art you can change the world. And it was very interesting, because my generation was born with the revolution. I was born in 1960. The combination of art by that time was abstract expressionism and pop art. Both reflected by the revolution. Of course you were taught to deal with the symbols but the school was free in general. What can’t be said in case of information. Cuba was much closed for that, especially during the first years of revolution. It was impossible to go outside. Still there was a list of restricted things long period after the revolution, for instance among other writers, Jorje Luis Borges was censored until 1989. But the processes were very exciting, people changed their mentality. I remember how one magazine had finally arrived and everyone was reading it from the hand to hand. Simple information could have a huge influence on the groups of people.

CAM: Is it a free space for critical thinking now?

R. F.: This is the context that influenced me for the teaching I had a wish of in my childhood and in 87 when I was graduating… Two years after I was introduced to the ISA (Instituto Superior de Arte). I tried to make something different from the beginning. I sent my students to the streets, living houses and tried to change the program. You know in the beginning of the course you have to confront the superiors trying to spread or explaining the idea of the program. But I had never put the program before. I tried to make project and continued to work in progress, accumulating the information and giving it to the department in the end of the course. It was very hard to deal with the parents of students, with the dean and etc. Because of the lack of information about the certain things, I was asked what I was doing with them. Was it a danger or not? So I experienced minor problems with that also. I was censored for the political art during three years. But surprisingly I maintained my position of a teacher.

CAM: But do you see any reasons for it? How did you manage to keep the position?

R. F.: I don’t know… In 1989 the strong group exhibition was closed by the Ministry of Culture because of the censorship. For the first time, they opened the doors for artists to leave Cuba and closed all our shows inside… I don’t know, my friends and I were teaching at the same time. For me it was the moment of searching other possibilities to be opened. However it was very important, because my position within the censorship made an influence on the students. By the traditional way of teaching in Cuba the professor owns a big impact over the students. It’s an ideology. Contrary to this I try to give them what they want, not what I want. Before I manage the program, I spend a month to see who they are. I try to take the best from them. We live in the house, go to the street, and learn together. I try to be a member of the group. It’s very important for me. Because of censorship situation in which my generation was at that moment, everyone wanted to leave the country. Really, all of them live outside now. And for me this position opened my life, of thinking about art and my way of teaching as well. I try to break the vertical status of the teacher.