Every December, craft creations from across Cuba are exhibited and sold at a fair dedicated to a medium that some view as a profession, and others view as a true art form with the added bonus of utilitarian value.
The International Craft Fair (Feria Internacional de Artesanía, Fiart), organised by the Cuban Cultural Foundation (Fondo Cubano de Bienes Culturales), has returned once again this December to its usual home in Pabexpo (the Palacio de Convenciones exhibition centre) in Havana, Cuba.
This 20th version of the fair started last week and will run until 18 December, exploring the theme of “Art, Utility and Professionalism”.
The goal is for the fair to become a space where ideas can be exchanged regarding the development of crafts at a global level. This year, the focus is on textiles as an art form and the central province of Cienfuegos.
Art and business
Footwear, textiles, leather goods, furniture in a range of materials and styles, jewellery, lamps and stained glass, ceramics, precious metals, iron work, tobacco crafts – the stalls at Fiart offer attendees plenty to discover.
From the outset, the fair has had multiple facets: one of these is the area for people looking for presents or items they need to decorate their homes and enjoy the beauty of excellent design at the same time.
This space also bears witness to the skill of Cuban craftspeople and artists, as well as fairgoers themselves, who bring with them the culture and traditions of their homelands.
In the same way, it paves the way for dialog between participants and opens up new opportunities for them; much of what is exhibited and sold at the fair is rooted in efforts to offer an alternative to imported goods and add a Cuban touch to particular products.
Similarly, Fiart’s Organising Committee are passionate about promoting pieces that showcase the craft techniques and skills of local creators as an expression of identity and cultural tradition in response to what is produced in other parts of the world.
This is the key criterion for the Cuban Cultural Foundation, which is one of the event’s main promoters.
Aside from the trade fair and craftwork exhibition, the event hosts theory forums and awards various prizes: the lifetime achievement award, Fiart prizes and the prize for the best exporter.
Since the beginning, one of the key aims of Fiart has been to exhibit pieces that showcase craft techniques and skills from different parts of the world, as well as to highlight the role of handicrafts in the new settings for economic and social development.
Textiles, textiles, textiles…
Fiart’s organisers believe that textiles are one of the most deeply rooted forms of artistic expression in the context of Cuban crafts. Nowadays, the tradition sits alongside new trends based on the use of very specific handiwork and techniques.
Fiart also acts as a shop window to showcase how Cuban creators and projects have turned textiles into a leading art form, not just in terms of the quality of the pieces but also for the influence and permanence they exert in the world of business.
Nobody embodies this principle better than designer Carmen Fiol, who has received awards for lifetime achievement and mastery of her craft, and is a true icon on the island of Cuba. Aged 91, she continues to give free rein to her creativity in new pieces and projects.
Moreover, the knowledge she has passed on through systematic teaching work has borne fruit in the form of important sewing and dressmaking methods.
Also in attendance at Fiart is Lourdes Trigo, a designer from the region of Cienfuegos, who was awarded the Seal of Artisanal Excellence by Unesco and the World Crafts Council for her work in embroidery with biases.
The city that I like
Fiart 2016 is dedicated to the central city of Cienfuegos, known on the island as the “Pearl of the South” for both its natural beauty and its French-style architecture.
In its historic centre, the capital of the Cienfuegos region exhibits “a significant blend of influences based on the Spanish Enlightenment and it is an exceptional and early example of its adoption in Latin American urban planning of the 19th century,” say the organisers of the event.
These factors meant that it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2005.
Fiart is consolidating its position as a melting pot for various forms of artistic expression, enabling the sale and exhibition of the very best in national and international crafts. (PL)
(Photos: Pixabay) – Translated by Roz Harvey