Cuba Part 1. Havana

With a smattering tropical downpour, the lazy Havana afternoon comes and goes. Yet, the rainfall does little to douse the city’s energy, as the streets once again come to life as the sun drops below the Malecon. It’s along the Malecon where Havana really shines. The coast-hugging avenue plays host not only to the interminable rumble of maquinas, but also to the elderly clinging hopefully onto a lone fishing line, lovers embracing as the sea laps against mossy rocks, youths swaying to unbridled latin hip hop. Across the avenue, Havana’s old buildings form the city’s façade – nonetheless, compared to those of other capital cities, those lining the Malecon are corroded, crumbling, leaving not much more than an uneven layer of paint, a step back in time. At the same time, Havana is a painting of saturated colours, as the late afternoon sun illuminates the greens, blues, and yellows of Havana casas.

The city was blanketed in a navy overcast, and like the previous night and many before, came to life. Havana’s atmosphere has always been thick with artistry, perhaps undiscovered to the wider world because of Cuba’s socio-political situation. The best place to sample the everchanging Cuban art scene is Havana’s Museum of Fine Arts. Neighbouring the former Cuban Supreme Court building dedicated to world art (surprisingly comprehensive for Havana) is the modernised, glass-faced museum housing Cuban art. While Cuba has a rich history in colonial and classical art, the art scene truly exploded following The Revolution as art became increasingly democratised, with revolution-influenced graphic art gaining its heyday. Cuban art became more widespread as Cuban artists trained and stayed overseas, a notable modernist example being that of Wilfredo Lam, who prominently worked in Barcelona and Paris in the realm of Surrealism.

Emerging Cuban artists, however, do not easily enter the ranks of the Museum of Fine Arts; instead, their work is often displayed at La Fabrica del Arte Cubano (FAC). A huge, warehouse-like space, FAC is the hub of Havana’s Vedado neighbourhood. The entrance fee to the museum acting as a cover charge, and with an in-house bar, there is little wonder that FAC has become one of the hipper places for young Cubanos to hang out. Indeed, as night fell, the exhibits at FAC remained, but the thumping music, increasingly young demographic, and cocktail-wielding hands suggested that FAC had completed its transformation into a club.

The FAC is edgy (sometimes even politically in this watertight country) yet accessible, undeniably artsy yet immature in its factory setting. The vast space makes FAC incredibly diverse in the artistic media it can present to the world: neighbouring rooms could showcase salsa lessons and play host to a fashion catwalk at the same time. The hallways are visually overwhelming, their walls filled with architectural models or sculptures or paintings. By 11 pm, FAC was overwhelmed by enthusiastic din. Amid the sweaty bodies, we were only brought back to Havana’s reality as a power cut plunged FAC into darkness; we made a quick exit as the surrounding din grew restless.

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