Fusterland: A photo essay

Any visit to Havana is not complete without a visit to Fusterland, the home and studio of Jose Fuster. Having moved to the small town of Jaimanitas 30 years ago to set up his studio in this Havana suburb he has slowly created a living art gallery that no longer can be contained inside his own home but has spilled out onto the street.

This small fishing town on the outskirts of Havana has embraced the imagination of Fuster and over 80 of his neighbours have allowed him to decorate their homes with his paintings, mosaics and sculptures. As you walk around the streets they are filled with colour. Its stunning. Each painted tile or mosaic is different, everything coming out of one mans imagination.

The creative and art filed entrance to Fuster's House

The creative and art filed entrance to Fuster’s House

Cowboy

Cowboy

Every inch of the house is filled with Fusters art

Every inch of the house is filled with Fusters art

Fusterland

Mojito anyone?

Fusterland Fusterland

The fabulously creative murals that fill the walls of Fuster's house.

The fabulously creative murals that fill the walls of Fuster’s house.

Fusterland

Covering not only his house Fuster has branched out and is making the whole neighbourhood part of his gallery

Covering not only his house Fuster has branched out and is making the whole neighbourhood part of his gallery

Fusterland

The colourful walls around the neighbourhood

The colourful walls around the neighbourhood

These fabulous murals are just everyday for the residents

These fabulous murals are just everyday for the residents

Fusterland Fusterland Fusterland

This is one of the most stunning art galleries I have had the privilege of visiting. It’s so inclusive, everyone is welcome and that is what Fuster wants, art for all and not just those who can visit galleries or collect art.

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Cuba!

The streets are alive with music! It’s everywhere, from the bands playing in cafes, the busker with his saxophone on a stoop to the radio playing in someone’s car. You cannot escape the musical beat that pumps its way around Cuba. This is an island full of life, soul and music, and you just do not want to leave.

Music everywhere!

Music everywhere!

Walking around Old Havana is like walking around a time capsule, the architecture, and the cobbled streets and of course the 50’s cars. It’s a city that exudes life. With the streets being narrow you find very few cars in and around the old squares which adds a tranquility to your wandering. One thing I found surprising about Havana and Cuba in general is their attitude to tourists, they are friendly and will ask you to look in their shop as you pass but there is no hassle, life just goes on in Havana. You would never think you are in one of the most visited destinations in the world. The streets are filled with people going about their business; in fact we are probably an inconvenience to them with tour groups filing through on walking tours. It’s by far one of the most relax capital cities I have ever visited.

The Capitol Building in Havana

The Capitol Building in Havana

With such architectural variety, from the colonial to the art deco you could wander around for days taking everything in. The amazing thing I found about Havana is, if a city was protected by UNESCO it could almost feel a bit Disney – everything a little too bright and shiny – but it doesn’t. The buildings are crumbling around you, a huge amount of restoration is going on, but people are still living in these buildings and life goes on. This is one of the contradictory things about Cuba and one of things that left me asking more questions. The Old City is protected and there is a huge amount of preservation going on but you have so many people living in these cramped buildings. Yes they are building new housing outside the historic centre but then you are in the suburbs and have to travel in (on highly unreliable public transport). Having all this amazing architecture protected is a privilege and it’s a reason tourist’s love Havana but with houses in need of dire repair how good is it for the actual Cuban people when they are being relocated out of their homes.

The colourful streets of Havana

The colourful streets of Havana

Even the rain cannot dampen the spirit of Havana

Even the rain cannot dampen the spirit of Havana

The stunning architecture of Havana

The stunning architecture of Havana

IMG_6034Havana is a city with so much to see and take in that it can be hard to leave, but leave you must as there is still so much of this country to see. Setting out we headed to Las Terrazas, a community and nature reserve named a biosphere reserve in 1985 by UNESCO. It’s a beautiful place. This community tries to be as self-sustaining as possible and was a dream of Castro’s soon after the revolution when he ordered a reforestation programme due to the heavy deforestation that had been taking place over the centuries. It’s like a small paradise in a bubble, the standard of living here is higher than in much of Cuba but you cannot simply move to Las Terrazas, there is a waiting list as they do not want to over populate the area. It’s a great example of what can be achieved by a community working together and by using what they have around them to attract visitors it creates an income for the community. I would certainly not hesitate going back and staying within the community for a short time in their hotel, the Hotel Mako. Leaving the lush green forests we headed further west to the Vinales valley and its stunning karst landscape which is encircled by mountains and dotted with spectacular dome like limestone outcrops (mogotes). The moment you descend into the valley and you get your first view of the mogotes you want to whip out your camera and start taking photos, but resist you must because there will be plenty of opportunity for photos in this photogenic landscape. With much of the land being fertile this is a key tobacco growing region, but also home to more than one organic farm that is striving to promote vegetables and growing your own, something Cubans need to take on board because eating their greens is something they are not doing. If more people grew their own food then they wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on rationing as they would be able to supplement their food much more easily, but with a diet focused on rice, beans and meat getting them to eat their greens may be a long term project for the government. In fact the food at one of these organic farms was the best food I had the entire time we had in Cuba, farm to table in a matter of hours!

Vinales doesn't have a bad angle

Vinales doesn’t have a bad angle

The stunning Vinales

The stunning Vinales

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A beautiful organic farm

The all important tobacco leaf for the Cuban cigar!

The all important tobacco leaf for the Cuban cigar!

Vinales is one of those places I could have quite happily meandered around for a few days but alas our time there was short and having done a cave tour and tobacco farm visit we had to leave after 2 nights. With the quaint little town full of paladars to try this is definitely somewhere to take your time, rent a bike, go for a walk, explore the valley do not rush it. With the forests and valleys done we headed towards the coast and the colonial town of Cienfuegos, the only town in Cuba to have been settled by French colonists. The long roads, colonnaded walk ways and squares this is a chilled out town. The brightly coloured buildings entice you to explore.

Treasure Lake on the way to Cienfuegos

Treasure Lake on the way to Cienfuegos

From Cienfuegos it’s the perfect opportunity to head into the mountains and to Topes de Collantes National Park. Here you are overwhelmed by the views you get climbing high into the mountains to the dense forest that cover these mountains. There is an abundance of flora and fauna and the birds, oh the birds, if you like birds this is the place to come and look. As someone who isn’t too bothered by twitching, having hummingbirds flutter around you is just breath taking, stunning miniature creatures.

The serene world of the Topes de Collantes

The serene world of the Topes de Collantes

Watching the world go by at the pace of a hummingbird

Watching the world go by at the pace of a hummingbird

Disappointingly we had to leave being this landscape and head down to the coast and the beautiful town of Trinidad. This sleepy colonial down a short drive from white sand beaches is an ideal place to settle down for a couple of days. Take in the colourful cobbled streets, enjoy the delicious food of the paladars and take your book down to calm crystal waters of the Caribbean. Trinidad is an ideal place to relax and take in everything you have experienced in Cuba so far.

The colonial square of Trinidad

The colonial square of Trinidad

Cuba

The brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets of Trinidad

The brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets of Trinidad

IMG_6289Before heading back to the happening city of Havana we headed to Santa Clara, the home of Che. His memorial and mausoleum is the main point for passing through. It dominates. It certainly made me wonder what they have planned for when Fidel dies. It certainly makes you think about the part he played in the revolution, his drive and passions for the communist and socialist movements. He is much more than just a face on a t-shirt that has become a bit of a fashion statement. This is a man who is an idol, a founder of modern Cuba, the respect for this man can be felt as you enter his mausoleum and walk around his memorial. It’s certainly thought provoking. Cuba

The monumental Che

The monumental Che

Arriving back into Havana I scrambled to fit in the last bits of sightseeing but just didn’t have enough time. There are still lots of galleries to explore, streets to wander and bars to try out. Cuba is a country that just keeps on giving, the friendliness of its people, its culture, and the way it makes you think about your perceived thoughts about its politics. There are so many reasons to return to Cuba. I have so many unanswered questions, and things will only keep changing and evolving there, especially if the continuing talks with the USA hold. Hopefully things will not change too quickly for the sake of the people and the islands innocence. Cuba

Art in unusal places

I was recently invited to the opening of an art residency at a hotel. The hotel was the Jumeirah Lowndes Hotel in London. The Art Movement, an art consultancy, has taken up residence in the hotel and will in their programme showcase some of the world’s finest contemporary artists within the hotel lobby and Lowndes Bar & Kitchen Restaurant. The first artist being Chuck Elliott. The aim being that guests can view the art and purchase. It’s intended to be a new way of displaying art as an alternative to a gallery. The Art Movement want to demystify the process of acquiring original art.

blast/first/fracturerefract by chuck elliott

Chuck Elliot Blast/FIRST/fractureRefract . Taken from artnet.com

I quite like this idea of creating new ‘art galleries’ accessible to people who maybe wouldn’t wander into an art gallery. I like it when art is accessible to all people, I think that is why I am so drawn and interested by graffiti and street art. It’s a way for people to express themselves on an open canvas to a wide audience and get them thinking. Street art is something that I always look for when I am abroad as it gives you another layer to the culture and the people of the country you are in.

Some of the many pieces of street art from San Jose

Some of the many pieces of street art from San Jose

Some of the many pieces of street art from San Jose

Some of the many pieces of street art from San Jose

Amazing use of space for art in Soweto

Amazing use of space for art in Soweto

One of my favourite cities for Street Art is Berlin. This is a city rich with art and it has a long history of expressing itself through art – just look at the East Side Gallery – the remnants of the Berlin Wall. It is showcase of politics, oppression, freedom and culture. Its one of my favourite galleries. But along with the wall, the streets and buildings of Berlin are littered with graffiti and art all showing different thoughts and feelings.

Its not only the East Side Gallery that show cases the artistic talents of the city but all surfaces, no matter their height. The sides of apartment buildings are painted to look like gardens, a wall full of sunflowers or words of expression.

Its not only the East Side Gallery that show cases the artistic talents of the city but all surfaces, no matter their height. The sides of apartment buildings are painted to look like gardens, a wall full of sunflowers or words of expression.

The East Side Gallery, the worlds longest open air art gallery.

The East Side Gallery, the worlds longest open air art gallery.

Of course here in London and the UK we are not short of street art. Just look at Banksy, he made a name from creating art, originally on the streets of Bristol, and then further a field. In the eyes of some he is just a graffiti artist or vandal while others are willing to pay millions for an original Banksy. Wandering around Bristol and spotting a Banksy is part of the fun of going to visit the lovely city.

Bristol Street Art

Bristol Street Art

Bristol Street Art

Bristol Street Art

Here in London of course we are spoilt… yes I am not going to deny it most of the graffiti out there is just tagging and pretty non descript but then you go to somewhere like Shoreditch which is starting to become like a living art gallery, around every corner is an artistic surprise, big and small. I follow quite a few people on Instagram but I particularly like following Anissa Helou as she is always putting up new pieces she finds wandering around Shoreditch – I can admire the art wherever I am thanks to her pictures! The art has become so popular that tours are popping up to show it all off.

Shoreditch art

Shoreditch Street Art

More recently I have been introduced to an art project in Cuba Fusterlandia,created by Jose Fuster, known as the Picasso of the Caribbean. As you enter the Havana suburb you are met by block after block of mosaic creations. It’s a suburb that has been turned into a living art project and encourages the inhabitants to express themselves through their houses, gates and gardens! This is definitely something that I am very excited to explore when I go to Cuba in January!

Stepping away from paint into the world of sculpture there are so many places that are now being used as galleries outside of the norm. I like the idea of sculpture parks, like the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail. Putting a piece of sculpture in the context of nature, where the elements can get to it. Of course this is not art you can buy but it can be appreciated, and your perception and feelings towards it are always going to be different depending on the weather. You are more likely to rush around when its cold and wet than if it was a warm sunny day where you can linger and explore all the aspects of it. Sculpture parks and walks allow you to go back time after time and experience the same things in different ways, something that isn’t really possible in a climate controlled museum or gallery.

P1020881 P1020900There is so much creativity out there that its hard to contain it all within the four walls of an art gallery – of course do not tell that to all those boutique private galleries that fill the streets of London and other cities a like trying to sell the wares of artists. As long as it isn’t hurting anyone I do not see a problem with using new spaces to express yourself through art. I hope to keep seeing art popping up in unusual places. I encourage you to go out and find art in unusal places. Find something and keep going back and see how the elements effect your perceptions of it. Go and explore art – I dare you!