When one thinks of Havana, images of classic cars, cigars, and mojitos come to mind. Having spent the last five+ years traveling to and from Havana, I would agree with those images. Cars, cigars, and rum are almost like the Cuban holy trinity. However, the highlights of Cuba and Havana are so much more than smoking cigars, drinking mojitos at Hemingway’s haunts, or taking a joyride in a classic convertible. Havana’s art scene is exploding with ingenuity. Let me uncover for you the artistic hotbed and treasure that is Havana with these three unforgettable street art locations.
Callejón de Hamel – Hamel’s Alley in Central Havana
Located in Central Havana, Callejón de Hamel is a two-block artistic alleyway started in the 90’s by Cuban artist, Salvador Gonzalez. This street art project features vibrant murals, sculpture pieces, as well as indoor and outdoor shrines honoring the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria. Sometimes confused with a type of ‘voodoo’, Santeria is actuality a unique mixture of West African religion (Yoruba) and Roman Catholic traditions.
Throughout the Callejón de Hamel, you will be greeted by an explosion of color, sculptures made out of repurposed materials, and Cuban creativity at its finest. If you want to bring back more than just pictures, there are also shops along the alley for purchasing paintings, hand carved wooden sculptures, and unique Santeria items. Although you can visit this street any day of the week, on Sundays the street comes alive with rumba music and dancing from about 11 am until late afternoon.
Muraleando – Muraling in Lawton
You’ve heard the expression that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Well, Muraleando’s story is just that. Located just minutes outside of Havana in a community called Lawton, Murleando (literally muraling or mural making) is a community project that proves that necessity is the mother of invention. Manolo Diaz and Ernesto Paz began teaching art workshops for the neighborhood children in a community space. However, in 2001, they had no other choice than to move to the streets when a conflict in scheduling left no space for art in the one and only available community building in Lawton. Using the existing drab cement walls along the streets as a canvas, Muraleando was founded. Shortly, the project came to life with colorful murals featuring Cuban life, its history, Afro-Cuban religion, and pop culture icons from around the world. To compliment these murals, the artists continued by welding together recycled materials such as typewriters, washing machine parts, and wheels to make beautiful sculptures.
Adjacent to where these murals and sculptures were blossoming was an old water tank, formerly used in the railroad days for refilling the locomotive steam engines. After running dry, the tank was literally a dump. Over the decades of non-use, the tank was filled with tons of trash. Manolo and Ernesto didn’t see a dump, but an opportunity. They asked the government for permission to use the tank, clean it up, and start running workshops out of the water tank for the neighborhood children. Multiple dump trucks of trash were removed with the help of dozens of volunteers from the community. Little by little, El Tanque (the tank) became the workshop and classroom of Muraleando.
Over the last fifteen years, Muraleando has expanded with more classrooms, multiple floors, and types of classes ranging from music to painting and even digital arts. Muraleando is a success story with more than two hundred children benefiting from this example of trash turned into treasure.
Jose Fuster’s Studio – Fusterlandia in Jaimanitas
In the early 90’s, Jose Fuster started an art project in his home in a marginal neighborhood called Jaimanitas. Initially, Fuster decorated the entrance to his own home, covering it with a colorful, artistic tile mosaic. His neighbor admired Fuster’s work and wanted the same for her house. Armed with cement, paint, and any tiles they could get their hands, Fuster and his team of nearly a dozen artists have transformed the once fishing village into a vibrant, mosaic covered neighborhood. Everything from the bus stops and street signs to the doctor’s house and neighbors’ houses are in mosaics.
Fuster’s house is the centerpiece and a three-storied ornate playground, nicknamed Fusterlandia. His home, which he says is a work of art in progress, is covered with symbols of Cuban life such as the guajiro (cowboy), palm trees, and his favorite, the rooster. I had the opportunity to talk to Fuster at his pool in 2013. I asked him about the rooster in his work. Although I knew it was a symbol from Santeria as well as one of virility, I wanted to know why it was present in his work almost like his signature. He relayed that each day he hears a rooster crow he is blessed to live another day. Fuster uses the rooster to remind us all to be grateful.
Like a treasure map, I have uncovered three gems of Havana’s street art, but these are just the tip of Cuba’s artistic iceberg. Now is the time to travel to Cuba to discover it for yourself. If you are interested in learning more about Cuba and my adventures, check out my blog www.heidisiefkas.com as well as my recent book Cubicle to Cuba: Desk Job to Dream Job
Guest writer Heidi Siefkas: Originally from small-town Wisconsin, Heidi hangs her hat in South Florida. However, as an adventurer, she’s rarely home for long. In fact, your best bet is to find her in Cuba. Also, Heidi is a speaker, the creator of the mantra Look Up, and author of three inspirational, non-fiction books When All Balls Drop, With New Eyes, and Cubicle to Cuba. Follow her adventures and be inspired www.heidisiefkas.com
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