I wrote about the cuisine in Cuba in a previous entry–but I’ve heard art described as food for the soul. The art in Cuba has had a prominent place at least since the Cuban Revolution that ended in 1959, and probably much earlier. In any case, it is clear that the post-revolution government saw value in using art to communicate its message.
A popular story is that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara finished a round of golf at the Havana Country Club in 1960 and Castro observed “you know, golf really isn’t very revolutionary.” So they converted the grounds of the course into an art school (if you’ve seen Souzz play golf, you’d probably think that was a good move).
In any case, art is everywhere in Cuba, and our visit to Havana last week included a number of museums, galleries, and performances, each with its own charm. Here are a few highlights:
- Museo Nacional de Bellas – This beautiful building built in 1913 houses the best collection of Cuban art on the planet, as well it should. Our tour guide was Lucilia Fernandez, who shared that she was named after Lucille Ball (who of course was married to Cuban performer Desi Arnaz for a time in the 1950s). The art at the museum was in many ways a timeline of the history of Cuba–including the ups and downs of wars and slavery, as well as happier times in the early part of the twentieth century.
- Instituto Superior de Arte – This is the art school that Castro and Che Guevara asked to be created at the expense of a golf course. It offers degrees in Music, Visual Arts, Theatre Arts, Dance Arts and Audiovisual Communication Media. We toured a number of its buildings and saw a lot of student artists refining their craft.
- Nostalgicars – One of the few private businesses permitted by the government, Nostalgicars offers a glimpse into Cuba’s limited forms of capitalism. It restores and renovates beautiful old cars without the benefit of American replacement parts, and the results are stunning. If/when Cuba truly opens up, expect to see a lot of these rolling masterpieces on the beachfront drives of Miami.
- Havana Compass – This performance group combines traces of Spanish and modern dance with African-Cuban Jazz. This was a high-energy show that is starting to tour internationally, including places as far and wide as South Korea and Argentina. Havana Compass made its U.S. debut in Tampa a few weeks ago to a packed house, and it was easy to see why.
- Jose Fuster House – The influence of Spanish artist Antoni Gaudi is alive and well in Havana, as Jose Fuster has built a masterpiece of tile in an otherwise nondescript fishing village on the shores of the Atlantic. There are tile images and sculptures across a full city block, and Fuster has turned an ordinary neighborhood into a fountain of color that attracts visitors from far and wide.
- Camerata Romeu – An all women group of musicians who play stringed instruments, Camerata Romeu was founded in 1993 by Director Zenaida Romeu. These highly skilled musicians play without sheet music and use percussion in the form of slapping their hands against their instruments. The overall sound is pure in a way that is hard to describe, and the performance was breathtaking. I wouldn’t know a violin from a badminton racket, and yet I found myself completely mesmerized. Souzz literally had to drag me out of the venue.
In addition to the highlights above, some of the art here is hard to really put into a category.
If art really is the ultimate form of expression, then Cuba is one of the most expressive places that I’ve been. Sure, the infrastructure here could use some love and care, but the creative energy is palpable. Of course, I prefer to express myself through obtuse movie references and seldom read blogs, so I might not blend in so well.