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In this essay, Samuel Cherson, a Cuban critic living in exile in Puerto Rico, discusses the exhibition organized by the Hermandad de Artistas Gráficos [Graphic Artists Association] featuring the artists who refrained from participating in the Quinta Bienal de San Juan del Grabado Latinoamericano [Fifth San Juan Biennial of Latin American Prints], held in 1981. According to Cherson, the exhibition is not a counter-biennial, as such, since the artists in question would like to preserve, protect, and continue the biennial. He is, however, unconvinced that this is the best way to protest. Cherson believes that a more effective strategy would have been to stage the protest at the biennial; he thinks that “the artist’s most powerful means of communication is his own artistic production when the ideological content is framed in a valid aesthetic language.” Despite his own disapproval, Cherson mentions that, as at the Biennial, a liberal approach was taken with regard to the number of artists admitted, thereby proportionally weakening the [quality of the] event. There were highs and lows: works of glaring aesthetic weakness were [installed] beside others with outstanding technique or subject matter.
The Biennial de San Juan del Grabado Latinoamericano was one of the most important events held in the Caribbean region, given that it fostered an exchange of ideas and contact among different artists. The first of these biennials was organized by the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña [Institute of Puerto Rican Culture] (ICP) in 1970. Printmaking was selected because it was a form of expression that was widely practiced by Puerto Rican artists, who were producing very high quality work. In 1986, “y del Caribe” [and Caribbean] was added to the name of the biennial so it could include that geographic area in the event. Parallel to this change, the biennial included two exhibitions to recognize artists’ work: one to honor a Puerto Rican artist and the other to honor a foreign artist. The Fifth Biennial paid tribute to the Puerto Rican, Manuel Hernández Acevedo, and the Chilean, Roberto Matta. In 1981, at the Fifth Biennial, most of the Puerto Rican artists decided not to participate in protest against the politicization and the ideological policy of annexation of the leadership of the ICP. The Puerto Rican Hermandad de Artistas Gráficos [Graphic Artists Association] therefore organized a parallel exhibition during the Biennial under the rubric: Sala de Gráfica Puertorriqueña en saludo a Latinoamérica [Puerto Rican Graphic Art Salutes Latin America].