Havana, Cuba

April 10, 2017

In your city, how can we tell that we are in the year 2017?

For the city of Havana, and for Cuba in general, that might be the most difficult question. In reality almost everything we see is from the previous century; the cars are from the 50s to the 90s, with just a few from the 2000s, and you seldom see one from the current year.  The haircuts of the young people might be the most up-to-date thing around—what most signals the year we’re living in.

Barber at a neighborhood barbershop. Photo by the artist Barber at a neighborhood barbershop. Photo by the artist

What in your city reminds you of the past?

Just about everything! It’s all just as it used to be. There are so few buildings built after 1959. It’s common to stay in the same place where you were born,  thanks to the real estate stagnation that has characterized Cuba since the 60s. That’s why I still visit my mother in the same apartment where I was born, an art deco building that, like many others in Havana, has luxury touches like marble on the walls and stairs; mirrors, etc.

There are also designers that have borrowed elements from the years of my childhood, making t-shirts with them, like the Nintendo logo, and Bolek and Lolek—some Polish cartoon characters—by Fresko.

Designs by the brand Límite Designs by the brand Límite

Which building or intersection in the city would make us think that we are in the future?

I can’t see that in Havana. The closest thing, I imagine, is in the historic center, on Obispo Boulevard, where there are many tourists, many more than before. Some have just gotten off a cruise ship, which didn’t even exist just a little while ago. Perhaps that’s how the future will be in this city; so full of tourists you can barely walk.


Where in your city would be the best place to lose track of time, freeze time, or gain time?

Facing the ocean, on any shore.


What song or local band would you recommend for an everyday playlist?

DJ Joy, the first to introduce electronic music to the country, who has played with the huge international DJs, and Aldo López Gavilán, an excellent pianist who plays mainly jazz and classical. I’ve had the honor of collaborating with both of them.


Which museum or cultural space is generally omitted from a typical cultural excursion, but is definitely worth visiting?

Espacio Aglutinador is one of the most interesting art spaces in the city. It’s completely alternative and was founded in 1994 by artists (and couple) Sandra Ceballos and Ezequiel Suárez; it’s always been characterized by showing that which you’re least likely to find on the main circuits—which are always official—of Cuban art. I remember how showing there gave you legitimacy, and it’s important to note the work they’ve done to promote art, beyond almost any limit. In this place, which was for many years also where the space’s creators lived, there have been excellent exhibitions. In my case I participated in a collective show called ¿Qué? in 2003 during the Havana Biennial. Aglutinador has also exhibited artists from other parts of the world, such as Santiago Sierra and Oswaldo Maciá. 


In which bookstore can you find new or second-hand publications on art history, exhibition catalogs, or artist monographs?

On the Plaza de Armas, in Old Havana.


What dish most embodies your city, and where would you find it?

White rice, black beans, grilled pork or, for me, sautéed fish, and veggies at StarBien.


Where can you find the best coffee (or tea)?

Café el Escorial, on the Plaza Vieja.


What is a monument that reveals a hidden past?

The Monumento a las Víctimas del Maine with its eagle representing the United States of America, which is now at the US Ambassador’s residence. It doesn’t represent a secret past, but it is one we’d like to eliminate. So much so that it was toppled when the Revolution triumphed. Picasso, as the film Memorias del Subdesarrollo correctly states, wanted to donate a sculpture of a dove to put in its place, but that never happened. So the pedestal, with its two enormous columns, is still standing. The void…

Monumento a las Víctimas del Maine. Photo by David Beltrán Monumento a las Víctimas del Maine. Photo by David Beltrán

Outdoor or public artwork worth visiting:

The Christ of Havana, for its view of the city.

The Christ of Havana. Photo by David Beltrán The Christ of Havana. Photo by David Beltrán

Where would be the best place to view the sunset in your city?

From any part of the Malecón.

Malecón in Havana. Photo by the artist Malecón in Havana. Photo by the artist

Next Sunday, let’s meet at:

Playas del Este, in the area closest to downtown (about 25 km away), where there are white sand beaches and where almost everyone born in Havana spent a few days on vacation with their parents.  Sunday is an ideal day to stay at least a few hours there and of course get in the water, which is almost always warm.


Which book transports me to your city?

Memorias del Subdesarrollo, by Edmundo Desnoes, and  El Arte de la Espera, by Rafael Rojas.


What aspect of your city most inspires you?

The ocean. But also the spontaneity of the people, and of almost everything that happens. I think this incites creativity. I’ve lived in cities where everything is measured by stopwatch and perfectly planned, and that leaves little room for creativity. I think that the neurons feel repressed; they can’t make free associations when everything is predictable.


Where would one probably get lost: geographically, emotionally or historically speaking?

Again, in the ocean.


If you were to be commissioned today to create an artwork “about” this city, briefly describe your proposal.

I would retake one of the first photos I made as “Tu ropa es mi Ropa” or “Prolongación del Deseo”, and I would enlarge it on one or more large-scale walls. Or I would do something new: “Escuchando la Ciudad”, a music box whose details I’d rather not reveal here.