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SVA in Havana: Printing with the Masters

Spring break took six SVA students to Havana this year to experience firsthand Cuba’s rich printmaking tradition at the legendary print shop Taller Experimental de Gráfica, where they learned stone lithography and lino-cut techniques under the guidance of Taller artists and Gunars Prande (MFA 1993 Fine Arts), SVA faculty member and director of operations, printmaking. “What makes the course so unique is that we work in the Taller each day and it becomes our studio for the length of the program,” said Prande, who has led this SVA Destinations trip to Cuba for the past four years. “It gave everyone a glimpse of what the artist's day-to-day life is like in Cuba: the hardships and the joys.”

The Taller was opened after the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960s under the directive of Che Guevara as minister of industry, and has been the country’s preeminent studio ever since. Cuba’s distinct printmaking history dates back even further: it was apparently the first place in the Americas to receive and adopt stone lithography in the early 19th century. (The process was adopted from Europe to help create indicators of authenticity, like seals, rings, and trademark decorations for the country’s well-known export, cigars.) The Taller maintains old lithography stones and a German hand-operated press from the early 1800s.

“I think the students really responded to working in a print shop with so much history and having the chance to work next to the Cuban artists and see projects evolve from day to day,” said Prande. “And, since most of the students had limited experience with printmaking, it opened their eyes to new possibilities in image-making and the traditional techniques that artists use to make editions.”

Over the week-long course, students studied the two printmaking mediums, experimenting with renewable materials (certain art supplies and paper are still hard to get in Cuba) and designing for the intricate subtleties of stone lithography and the less forgiving demands of linoleum and woodcuts. They washed litho stones, pulled prints and did everything in between with the members of the studio, who generally work together for years and are welcoming to new artists, noted Prande. At the end of each class session, a studio artist would show and discuss their work with the students.

After classes, the students had their evenings free to explore the city.

It was a memorable experience for Davina Hwang, a BFA Design student. “Learning lithography and lino-cut with the staff from the Taller—the most caring and talented people—was heart-opening and made me realize how possible it is to get inspired by the ordinary and to create gigantic pieces of art,” she said.

The time spent in Havana itself—“an open book of colors, typography, graphics, street art and of course a different story happening on every corner,” Hwang said—further fostered the sense of artistic and cultural exchange the course promotes.

For more information on this and other SVA Destinations offerings, visit destinations.sva.edu.

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