A new experimental challenge for Cuban design

Havana Design Workshop 2018

By Wava Carpenter

Just last year, Cuban design team Raiko Valladares and Daniela Friedman of Havana-based VibraStudio were brainstorming ways to bolster design culture in Cuba while bringing attention to Havana’s young and blossoming design scene. They landed on the idea to launch a new event in Havana aimed at developing collaborations between Cuban and non-Cuban designers. Within months, the plan gained momentum as supporters jumped in to help, including Cuban conceptual artist Wilfredo Prieto, art curators Lena Solá Noguè and Gabriela Román, storyteller Gaëlle Dickie, New York-based Ladies & Gentleman Studio, and Singaporean designer Gabriel Tan.

The result? The first Havana Design Workshop 2018 just took place in June at Prieto’s Havana workshop, a former Soviet shipyard located on the banks of the Almendares River. It was attended by 11 Cuban designers working in tandem with ten international designers, from Mexico City's Tezontle and Paris's Premice & Co, to Rotterdam's Lex Pott and more.

According to the organizers, this 10-day workshop faced head on the unique context in which contemporary Cuban designers work. In the early 1990s, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba suffered a socioeconomic crisis that left an indelible impression on the young designers of today. “The Special Period,” as this crisis was called, was characterized by widespread shortages of basic materials, which sparked people to come up with their own bespoke solutions to everyday problems. Design practitioners in Cuba have come to embrace this "work around" mindset, recognizing that their experience of scarcity and instability has cultivated in them a spirit of  resilience, adaptation, and improvisation.

The cross-cultural design teams spent the early days of the workshop discussing stealth experimentation, alternative thinking, and spontaneous invention, while working together to create prototypes and conceptual objects, sometimes functional, sometimes not. The final pieces were exhibited to the public in the final days of the workshop and will soon be dispersed to art galleries both within and outside Cuba. Plans are already in the works for a second event that will continue to uncover new ways to turn what some could think of as disadvantages into creative strengths and points of pride.

  • Text by

    • Wava Carpenter

      Wava Carpenter

      After studying Design History, Wava has worn many hats in support of design culture: teaching design studies, curating exhibitions, overseeing commissions, organizing talks, writing articles—all of which informs her work now as Pamono’s Editor-in-Chief.

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