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Havana, Cuba

Fusterlandia

A Cuban artist reclaimed his impoverished neighborhood as a dreamy folk art kingdom. 

Cuban artist José Fuster’s art is “naïve,” meaning he uses childlike crude shapes and bright colors in his untrained composition. His work has been compared to that of Picasso, a comparison that followed him in successful gallery tours across Europe.

After one such tour, Fuster was struck with a desire to recreate something like Gaudi’s public works in Barcelona and Brâncuși’s across Romania in his own homeland. He wanted to put his artistic reality into his real-world surroundings, and he began in his own neighborhood.

In 1975, after moving into a modest wood house in the rundown neighborhood of Jaimanitas outside Havana, Fuster set about decorating his studio in colorful mosaic. Once he was done there, he asked his neighbors if he could decorate their homes and business as well. A few accepted his offer and the tile creations grew. Over the course of a decade, doctors’ offices, bus stops, fountains, benches, gateways, and more were enveloped by Fuster’s whimsical imagination. Today, his artwork coats the neighborhood in a rainbow of strange, enchanting fantasy.

Jaimanitas was an economically depressed area before Fuster arrived, and now it has turned into an artist’s paradise. Tourists are bussed into the neighborhood to admire Fuster’s still-growing kingdom, which has spawned a new generation of artists inspired by the surroundings they came up in.

Know Before You Go

Taxi from downtown Havana (about CUC$20 unless you are a better negotiator than me), or regular local bus (MN$0.80, or about 1/500th of the taxi fare, if you are adventurous enough) - it just off Avenida 5ta and even the bus-stops are Gaudi-esque. I think one of the hop-on-hop-off tour buses goes to the area too, and some regular tours of Havana go there. It is in the Jaimanitas area, not at the spot marked on the map as Playa Jaimanitas, but a few blocks south towards the main road (you might have to scroll the map a little to see it). There is no charge, but Fuster and his neighbors (many of whom have become artists as a result of his work) will surely appreciate you buying any of their works, small or large.

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