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

A Visit to the Lincoln Memorial

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Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D. C.

Today we visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C.  Although we had visited many years ago, we had only looked at the statue of the seated president. This time we visited the side chambers to read the inscribed speeches.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

The left chamber wall contains the carved inscription of the text of the Gettysburg Address, which was commonly memorized in its entirety when I was a school child. It is repeated here.

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, November 19, 1863)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.”

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow, this ground – The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address
Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

On the right chamber wall is the carved inscription of Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Even though some parts of the speech are familiar, in particular the last paragraph, we were unaware of the full text. Perhaps this is a good time  to be reminded of this great speech, or to read it completely for the first time (as we did). Here it is.

Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address  (Washington, D. C. March 4, 1865)

Fellow-Countrymen:

At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

 

 

While most of the visitors (while we were there) were clustered in front of the seated president, taking group pictures and selfies, there was a smaller, more serious group that stood silently in front of these two great speeches, reading them completely before melting back into the crowd.

 

View from Lincoln Memorial
View of Reflecting Pool, World War II Memorial, and Washington Monument from Lincoln Memorial

Views from the outside of the memorial are spectacular, also. From the steps can be seen the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and the World War II Memorial in a straight line with the Washington Monument. By standing on the southern peristyle of the memorial, among the Doric columns, it is possible to see the United States Capitol building, which is otherwise hidden behind the Washington Monument.

View of Washington Monument from Lincoln Memorial
View of Washington Monument and US Capitol Building from Lincoln Memorial