Cuban Diary: Public Art

This post features some public art we saw on plazas and streets of Havana. By public art, we mean art that was available for public viewing without paying a fee. Some was religious, some was political, some was traditional, and some was contemporary. The photographs shared here include only statues and street art (graffiti).

Religious Art

The two religious statues that are seen by almost every tourist in Old Havana are the Christ of Havana and the statue of the priest and young boy.

The Cristo de La Habana (Christ of Havana) statue is located  on top of La Cabaña hill overlooking Havana Bay. The statue was carved in Italy of white Carrara marble; after its blessing by Pope Pius XII in Italy, it was unveiled here on December 24, 1958, only 15 days before Fidel Castro entered Havana during the Revolution. At 20 meters (66 feet) tall, standing 51 meters (167 feet) above sea level, it is visible from many places in Havana. It is also possible to view Havana from the base of the statue.

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Christ of Havana

The statue of the Franciscan friar Junípero Serra y Ferrer with a Juaneño Indian boy is located in the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis in front of the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis. On September 23, 2015, Pope Francis conferred sainthood on Junipero Serra, who founded missions in Baja California and in California.

Political Art

Four political art works honor Antonio Gades, Abraham Lincoln, Yasser Arafat, and Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Antonio Esteve Ródenas (Antonio Gades), best known as a Spanish flamenco dancer and choreographer, co-founded the Spanish National Ballet. As a member of the Central Committee of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Peoples of Spain, Gades was also a political activist during the Spanish transition to democracy (The Transition) following the death of Spain’s military dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.  Fidel Castro decorated Antonio Gades with the Order of José Martí, a state honor, shortly before Gades’ death in Madrid in 2004.

The statue of Antonio Gades is located on the Plaza de la Catedral in Old Havana, in front of the Palacio de Lombillo.

Abraham Lincoln is honored in Havana with a miniature sculpture in the Vedado neighborhood, a bust in the Museum of the Revolution, and a bust near the Capitolio. The statue of Lincoln standing in front of a chair is located on the Avenida de los Presidentes in front of the Abraham Lincoln Escuela de Idiomas, a foreign language school.

Slaves were brought to Cuba beginning in the 1500s to work on Spanish sugar cane plantations. Abraham Lincoln is important to Cuba because he issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 to free slaves in the Southern US. The  Emancipation Proclamation helped put pressure on Spain to end slavery in Cuba; the Cuban slave trade ended in 1867.

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Abraham Lincoln

This statue of Palestinian leader Mohammed Yasser Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa ( Yasser Arafat) is located on 7th Avenida in Havana.The statue is 1.95 meters (6’5″) tall; Arafat was 1.57 meters (5’2″) tall.

The statue was unveiled on November 24, 2012, by Akram Samhan, the Palestinian ambassador to Cuba. Formerly the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) opposed to Israel, Arafat was instrumental in a series of (ultimately unsuccessful) negotiations for peace with Israel; for this he (along with Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Israel President Shimon Peres) received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.

Part of the special connection between Yasser Arafat and Fidel Castro is this: Palestinian soldiers were trained in Cuban guerrilla training camps under the direction of the KGB in the 1960s, and Cuban soldiers fought in support of Syria during the Yom Kippur War in the 1970s.

Arafat was revered by Fidel Castro and awarded the Bay of Pigs Medal during his first visit to Cuba on November 24, 1974.

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Yasser Arafat

Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary originally from Argentina, was one of the three most recognizable figures (along with Fidel Castro and Camilo Cienfuegos) in the Cuban Revolution. An expert on guerrilla warfare, Che left Cuba in 1965 to continue (unsuccessfully) his version of world revolution, first in the Congo and later in Bolivia, where he was executed on October 9, 1967.

Che Guevara is idolized in Cuba as a martyr, and his image on a t-shirt is one of the most popular souvenirs of Cuba. The street art (pictured below) is a highly-processed version of a photograph taken of Che on March 5, 1960, by Alberto Korda.

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Graffiti of Ernesto “Che” Guevara

Traditional Art

A traditional piece of art, the sculpture of Polish pianist-composer Frederic Chopin sitting on a bench, is located in the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis in front of the Hotel Palacio del Marques de San Felipe y Santiago de Bejucal.

The sculpture was unveiled on December 21, 2010, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth.

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Frederic Chopin

Contemporary Art

We saw several pieces of contemporary art in Old Havana, including The Conversation, Fantastic Voyage, Nature, Xico’s Travels Through Latin America, and three examples of street art.

The bronze sculpture La Conversación (The Conversation) is located in the Plaza San Francisco de Asis in Old Havana. Created by the French sculptor Etienne, it shows two figures in an intense discussion. It was unveiled on May 25, 2012, with Etienne and French ambassador Vittorio Perrota (the donor) in attendance.

(Note in the photo on the right the statue of Junípero Serra and the Indian boy in front of the Basilica Menor de San Francisco de Asis (the building with the tower) on the other side of the square.)

The bronze sculpture Viaje Fantastico (Fantastic Voyage), by the contemporary Cuban painter, sculptor, and illustrator Roberto Fabelo, was unveiled on January 20, 2013. Similar to many of the artist’s paintings, the sculpture depicts a woman wearing only shoes and holding a gigantic fork as she sits astride a giant rooster. This sculpture is one of a limited edition of only five. Fabelo, who was the 2004 winner of Cuba’s National Arts Award, donated the statue.

El Gallo (the rooster) is an important symbol in Cuban life, representing strength and power.

The statue is located in Plaza Vieja (Old Square) in Habana Vieja (Old Havana). (Fun fact: The Plaza Vieja (Old Square) was originally called Plaza Nueva (New Square) in 1559.)

Also located in Plaza Vieja in Old Havana is a 10 meter (about 33 foot) tall  flower sculpture named Escultura Natura (Nature).  Natura was created of Cuban marble by Cuban sculptor Juan Narcisco Quintanilla in 2010.

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Natura

 Another exhibit in Plaza Vieja is part of the Exposicion de artistas latinosamericanos: “Crossings Xico Latin America” (“Xico’s Travels Through Latin America”) is  a series of 16 stylized dogs standing around the fence that surrounds the fountain in the middle of the square.  These are the mythical pre-Columbian god dog, Xico, as envisioned by eight Cuban artists and others in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Panama. Each cartoon xoloitzcuintle (Xico) is made of reinforced vinyl, stands 1.8 meters (5’11”) tall, and is covered in colorful designs. From November 12 until  December 12, 2015, the pieces were on exhibit in the Plaza de San Francisco de Asis, after which they were moved to Plaza Vieja.

The project coordinator, Mexican artist Cristina Pineda, conceived this representation of Xico as a legacy of Aztec culture. Recognizing that foreign characters (e.g., Mickey Mouse, Powerpuff Girls) are popular with Latin American children, Pineda would like to further the Xico initiative with programs in which children are encouraged to create their own versions of Xico from clay.

(The fountain, somewhat visible inside the fence, is a replica of the original Carrara marble fountain with four dolphins that was destroyed under Batista in 1952 to make way for an underground parking lot, also now demolished. Renovation of the buildings around the square, damaged by the parking lot construction, was begun in the 1980s.)

The last photo of contemporary art is actually three pieces of street art (graffiti) on the side of a low building.

The image on the left is signed “atomiko en la habana” and was created by the street artist self-named as atomiko. Atomiko, a native of Miami, Florida, created the first version of the orange character in 2008 in reaction to the demolition of the Miami Orange Bowl.

The image in the middle was created by the street artist “Abstrk,” also a native of Miami, Florida. His art is distinguishable by the eyes of the subject, which create an intimate connection between the viewer and the soul of the subject.

The image on the right was created by the Cuban street artist “5 Stars.” His graffiti can be found on many walls in Havana, especially in Centro Habana, the municipality (borough) bordering Habana Vieja to the west. Some of his artwork can be viewed on the Facebook page for 5stars.

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We hope you have enjoyed this look at public art in Havana. Stay tuned for more of our Cuban diary. The last post will provide general impressions of Cuba, based on our look into Cuba’s history and motivated by what we saw during our short time in Havana. If you want to catch up on previous posts, please read:

Eight Days in Cuba: an Introduction

Cuban Diary Day 1: Arriving in Cuba

Cuban Diary Day 2: Squares of Old Havana

Cuban Diary Day 2: Views of Old Havana

Cuban Diary Day 3: Cigars, Salad and Salsa

Cuban Diary Day 3: Ernest Hemingway’s Finca Vigia

Cuban Diary Day 4: Religion, Restoration, and Revolution

Cuban Diary Day 5: Society, Art, and a Micro-brewery

Cuban Diary Day 6: Las Terrazas Eco-community

Cuban Diary Day 7: Music and Revolution

Cuban Diary Day 8: Leaving Cuba

Cuban Diary: A Few of Hemingway’s Bars

Cuban Diary: Vintage Cars

Cuban Diary: Night Photography