Last Updated on February 15, 2022
I had been drawn to Cuba for years before finally doing something about it. Kaleidoscopic and complex, I was fascinated by this island I’d read so much about but still couldn’t really grasp.
Existing within many cultures, eras and ideologies, how could I possibly understand Cuba without experiencing it first-hand? So I did. And whilst I still can’t sum up the country in just one small blog post, the Havana street art was a brilliant window into Cuban culture and identity.
I was told that, for cheaper holidays to Cuba, it’s best to travel during the ‘low’ season in September or October. Arriving at the José Martí International Airport in fall, it wasn’t long before I encountered Cuba’s art scene. On a cab ride into Havana city center, the colorful murals adorning the stony canvas of the city literally blew me away. Here are a few favorites I’ve picked out…
The Wrinkles of the City
A collaborative effort between artists JR and José Parlá, this stunning series of street artworks scattered across Havana features the faces of senior citizens who lived through the Cuban Revolution. The black and white murals offer a profound reflection on the country’s political history through the eyes of its elders.
JR’s ‘Wrinkles of the City’ series began on the streets of Cartagena, Spain and has since been taken to Shanghai, Los Angeles, Havana and Berlin to showcase the faces of local seniors who’ve watched their city change through the years.
Callejon de Hamel
Every surface of the walls and buildings along Havana’s Callejon de Hamel street, known as the city’s hub of Afro-Cuban culture, are covered with the vibrant, colorful murals of Cuban artist Salvador Gonzáles Escalona.
This busy neighborhood, filled with musicians, dancers and street vendors, was definitely a highlight of my visit. The sheer amount of art, each piece brighter than the next, makes for a brilliantly surreal experience.
When local artists Manuel Diaz Baldrich and Ernesto Quirch Paz began teaching art classes in their local area just over a decade ago, they unintentionally created one of the world’s most authentic, inspirational street art collectives. Murals began popping up on walls throughout the neighborhood, and the Muraleando Project was born.
The Muraleando Masthead is the neighbourhood’s most iconic mural. The cartoon face, with its toothed grin, adorns the front of a large building on the corner of Porvenir and Concha Streets.
I’m sure I learned more about Cuba on the streets of Havana than in any museum or gallery while we were there. As wise as it is youthful, as life-affirming as it is bleak, Cuba’s street art is very much a metaphor for the country itself.
Images used via creative commons license.