Fresh Eyes Cuba: Publication Launch in Havana

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Mariana Amatullo June 16, 2017

This past fall Designmatters and the Graphic Design Department came together to conceive the Fresh Eyes Cuba project. Led by Nik Hafermaas and Tracey Shiffman, this is the first initiative in the framework of ArtCenter’s international partnership with Havana’s Insituto de Diseño, (ISDi), the prestigious design school in Cuba.

The process and outcomes of the project are also now captured in an exquisite book designed by Tracey Shiffman (with Ricardo Imperial Jr., one of the graphic design students from the studio). This limited edition book marks the latest addition to the Designmatters library.

Photo credit: Suyu Ren

At the heart of our initial collaboration with ISDi was field time in Havana for the ArtCenter student team and the participation for students of both our institutions in an immersive workshop that resulted in a series of thought-provoking and experiential pop-up installations which first concluded the project’s field phase in Cuba, and then went on to anchor the remainder inquiry of the transdisciplinary studio. The main objective had been to elicit self-discovery, intellectual curiosity, self-awareness, and cultural diplomacy through engagement with the exceptional ecosystem of creativity one encounters in Cuba. The studio’s work culminated last December in an exhibition mounted by the students in the 1111 Building of ArtCenter’s South Campus which recreated fragments of the personal and collective learning of the group at a time of fragile openness between our two countries.

Fast forward to early June 2017, Nik, Tracey and I were fortunate to return to Havana to attend the biennial international academic conference FORMA 2017 and participate in a special celebration of our collaboration. Tracey’s lecture at FORMA focused on the making of the Fresh Eyes publication; Nik shared insights about the transmedia curriculum of the Graphic Design department at ArtCenter and I gave a keynote about social innovation pedagogy and emerging design practices through the Designmatters portfolio of projects and my ongoing research in the field. We were thrilled to be joined in this return visit to Havana by three of our students from the original team—Suyu Ren, Interaction Design, Nico Ramirez, Product Design, and Ricardo Imperial Jr., Graphic Design. All three were selected as ambassadors of the collaboration and were also charged with helping design a key activity of FORMA 2017: the Fresh Eyes Cuba book exhibition.

Photo credit: Nik Hafermaas

Our colleagues at ISDi had secured for the exhibition a stunning  gallery space overlooking the rooftops of the Vedado district in Havana: the Ludwig Foundation. This is a non-profit that is dedicated to showcasing young Cuban and international artists. Working with the support of ISDi and Ludwig curator Claudia Laguna our team had less than 24hs hours to sprint into action to realize the concept for the show, a colorful “Tape Art” installation that was to premiere that same evening. The exhibition came to life quickly and by the time of the opening, the space has been transformed into a beautiful burst of color that swirled around impromptu pedestals showcasing copies of the book, and animated the various penthouse rooms of the gallery, spilling over its expansive terrace, down the staircase of the 5th story building, and into the street. It was a thrill to be present together with FORMA participants and many of the ISDi students for a truly special evening that allowed us once again to experience the energy of this special project. Nik and Tracey’s eloquent testimonials that follow below give a sense of that genuine sense of celebration of our engagement.

Photo credit: Suyu Ren


To me, “Havana revisited” was a very special  experience. It combined the best of both worlds: the still very fresh gaze at this vibrant and somewhat ephemeral place, combined with a growing feeling of returning to somewhere familiar and treasured. Installing our little show at the Ludwig Foundation was the apotheosis of pop-up: designing a space in realtime with a team of likeminded creatives was a special treat. Armed with nothing but colorful tape it felt like we all performed a piece of free jazz, in the flow of the moment and in spontaneous harmony. The installation, only up for a short evening, embodied to me the vibrant “resolver” spirit of Cuba in 2017. 

– Nik Hafermaas, Chair, Graphic Design Dept.

Photo credit: Suyu Ren

“Returning to Cuba was like an unpretentious homecoming. The thick, sultry, ovenlike, tropical air and the magic of meeting up with the original team of Cuban students lingered with every re-introduction. Our installation at the Ludwig Foundation gave me a sense of revisiting the collaboration and its complexity. The symphonic lines of color, emanating from the Fresh Eyes Cuba books, spilling onto the floors, up the windows, down the elevator and on to the stairs gave way to metaphor: A portal for the ongoing conversations and the intertwining perspectives our two cultures share in this time of uncertainty.” 

–Tracey Shiffman, Faculty


To learn more about the Fresh Eyes Cuba Project please visit the dedicated case study page.

View more images from the exhibition here.  (All photos by the Designmatters Fresh Eyes Cuba Team: Nik Hafermaas, Tracey Shiffman, Suyu Ren, Nico Ramirez and Ricardo Imperial Jr.)

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