Havana Biennale 2015: Thawing US-Cuba relations symbolised by ice rink and 'Obama' visit [Video/Photos]

Barack Obama has made no secret of his desire to visit Cuba. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters: "I know there's one person in particular who hopes President Obama will be in Havana at some point in the relatively near future, and that's President Obama himself."

He later clarified that he did not foresee a trip "in the near future" and that he did not know if Obama would get to visit the island before he left office.

However locals in Havana were amazed when a man who looked like the US president walked into a bar and ordered a mojito. He then left the bar and walked around the streets of the city, much to the surprise of people sitting out on their doorsteps.

An Obama lookalike drinks a mojito at a bar in HavanaAdalberto Roque/AFP
Barack Obama appears to greet some locals as he walks through the streets of HavanaAdalberto Roque/AFP

Of course it wasn't really Obama, but Cuban performance artist René Francisco Rodríguez, who bears a striking resemblance to the US president. He further enhanced the resemblance by adopting Obama's greying closely cropped hair and wearing a sharp suit.

The stunt was filmed for his video art piece Entropia, which is on show at the 12th Havana Biennial.

The faux US president visits Cuban artist Rene Francisco Rodriguez's studioAdalberto Roque/AFP

This year's event started on 24 May – the day after the US and Cuba began a fourth round of talks aimed at overcoming obstacles to opening embassies in each others' capitals on the road to re-establishing diplomatic ties. The talks failed, but officials said they were able to make "significant progress".

Everyone involved in this year's Biennial agreed the political developments cast a wide shadow over the event. One of those artists is New York-based Duke Riley, who built an ice rink on the city's famous Malecón esplanade to symbolise the thawing of tensions between the US and Cuba.

Riley also brought with him some 200 pairs of ice skates for young and old to take a spin on the synthetic ice under the blazing Caribbean sun.

Cubans skate on an artificial ice rink in Havana, part of a performance by American artist Duke RileyYamil Lage/AFP
Yamil Lage/AFP
Enrique de la Osa/Reuters

The rink also played host to a game of ice hockey between The National Museum of Fine Arts of Havana and The Bronx Museum of the Arts in New York.

The latter is staging a major exhibition at the Biennial. Included are works from Andy Warhol, Tim Rollins and Willie Cole, which will be displayed alongside David Hammons's black, green and red "African American Flag". The Cuban museum will also display parts of its permanent collection at the Bronx Museum from 5 March through 29 May 2016.

Havana Biennale 2015: Ice rink unveiled symbolising thawing US-Cuba relationsIBTimes UK

The Havana Biennial is held in the Cuban capital every two years and this year's exhibit will bring together more than 200 artists from over 40 countries under the theme Between The Idea And The Experience.

Exhibitions will be held in Havana's squares, parks and public spaces, in addition to the more traditional galleries and museums.

A man works on a creation by Cuban artist Rachel Valdez called Cubo Azul, or Blue CubeAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
People enjoy an artificial beach on the Malecon seafront, created by Cuban artist Arles del Rio for the 12th Havana BiennialAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
A vintage car drives past people relaxing on an artificial beach on Havana's Malecon seafrontAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
Cuban Artist Rachel Valdez and her assistant prepare The Infinite Composition for the 12th Havana Art BiennialAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
People walk past Cuban artist Ernesto Domecq's sculpture SAU-100, a reference to the Soviet-made tank used by Castro during the 1961 battle of the Bay of PigsEnrique de la Osa/Reuters
An actress has her body painted to perform as part of the creation Mutacion Forzada, or Forced Mutation, by Cuban artist Alberto LescayAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
People look at a creation called Tzompantli, created by Mexican-American artist Othon CastanedaAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters
Models take part in Cuban artist Manuel Mendive's performance piece Scape during the 12th Havana Biennial, in Havana, May 25, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer - RTX1EJ33Reuters
A man looks at works by Cuban artist Michel MirabalAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters

Cuban artist Alex Hernandez said the Havana Biennial is an important time for many local artists to get noticed internationally, while also having the chance to network with creative figures from around the world.

A surge of interest in all things Cuban is extending to paintings and sculpture, with US art collectors and dealers descending on Havana for the Biennial amid expectations that art prices will rise because of the détente between the former Cold War rivals.

American artists and curators who came for the 12th Havana Biennial explore the Cuban capitalAlexandre Meneghini/Reuters

Even under the embargo, it is legal for US citizens to purchase Cuban art, though works cannot be directly commissioned by a US buyer and cannot have been financed by the Cuban government. Some collectors have taken advantage of that loophole, though prices remain relatively low, according to Howard Farber, whose foundation publishes the online Cuban Art News magazine.

He sees that changing fast. "You're getting a lot of collectors who are running to Cuba to buy art," Farber said. "It's the biggest opportunity for an art collector to start a collection."

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