In March, the Taller Experimental de Gráfica in Havana will host a group of students for a weeklong workshop under the auspices of SVA Arts Abroad. Considered Cuba’s premier printmaking studio, the Taller is an open-air facility that has been a vital center for printmaking since the 1960s. Meanwhile, U.S. government restrictions on travel to Cuba meant that American students couldn’t visit until just recently. SVA Close Up spoke with Gunars Prande, the SVA faculty member for the program.
What is the history of the Taller?
After the Cuban Revolution, some artists got together and gathered up printing presses that had been abandoned in the streets (they were used to print cigar box labels, and so forth). Orlando Suarez, the Taller’s first director, found a space for the studio with help from Che Guevara and Pablo Neruda. The original artists that worked at the Taller were all painters and sculptors who started making prints at the new studio. Later the Taller moved to its present location in the center of old Havana. The Taller artists are there every day making prints and teaching students.
How did this program come about?
SVA had worked with the Taller on “Date with the Angels,” a collaborative print exhibition in 2004. Under the second President Bush, there was a tightening of travel restrictions and Americans could no longer travel to Cuba as they once had. The restrictions were eased by President Obama, and in 2013 SVA Board Member Walter Rivera led a group of us on a return visit to Havana, and Luis Larma, the new director of the Taller, and the artists working there greeted our return with open arms.
What does the program offer to artists who don’t have experience in printmaking?
The way the Taller is set up, you can know very little about printmaking but still create works of all kinds. One of the artists there is a specialist in woodcut, another in lithography, and so on. What happens with printing is that when you print a color, it takes a while to dry. So, you can leave one project and start work in other mediums.
What’s it like to make art there?
The studio is an amazing space in the center of old Havana off of a public square. Like all printmaking studios, it’s very social place to make work in. While you’re waiting for something to dry, you’re helping one another out and exchanging ideas. There’s a real camaraderie at the Taller since the artists have worked together for years. As soon as you walk out on the street, you step into historic Havana. Every street is different. It’s easy to get around the city, whether you walk or take a cab, and wherever you stop, something’s going on.