Art Caribbean Cuba

Havana – Street Art – and Dissidence

Viaje Fantastic - FabeloA larger than life bronze sculpture by award-winning Cuban artist, Roberto Fabelo, was recently installed in a corner of Plaza Vieja in Old Havana. A bald, voluptuous, naked woman, wearing high heels, rides a giant rooster and wields an over-sized fork. Why?

Fabelo is inspired by magic realism – the writings of Gabriel García Márquez and paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Although not an anomaly when you consider Fabelo’s vast body of work with similar images, the juxtaposition of this contemporary allegory (IMHO) with the historic colonial style buildings of the 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries surrounding the plaza, creates a bit of dissonance. People want to know, “what does it mean?”

Is she in search of food? Is she asserting domination over the masculine? Does the sculpture have a ‘message’ or is it just a manifestation of Fabelo’s creative mind? The existence of Viaje Fanstástico stirs up much speculation.

The woman, although not appearing to be physically suffering, may very well be a symbol for those Cubans who are struggling for sustenance.  And of course, high heels are important when you’re riding about like Godiva – but more important than hair? My search uncovered that most of Fabelo’s women are shown void of locks, including the human head on the huge beetle body climbing a wall in Havana’s Museo Bellas Artes, the lone Kafkaesque survivor of an installation.Fusterlandia

Meanwhile, in the barrio of Jaimanitas, Fusterlandia spreads from the home and studio of Jose Fuster to the homes of more than 80 neighbors. When the painter/sculptor moved into the neighborhood over thirty years ago, he began to cheer the place up with his colorful sculptures and mosaics. You can see the influence of Gaudi, Picasso and other European Modern Artist as you walk through the neighborhood on the way to Fuster’s home, studio and yard which are (mostly) open to the public.

The Biennial Art Festival in Havana in 2000 hosted several foreign graffiti artists. They participated in exhibiting – demonstrating the need for expression “a form of confrontation with the existing sociopolitical order.” The street is the gallery for those without formal training – or for those who want to make public statements that reach the general population … and are not favored by those in power.

Yulier-RodriguezYulier Rodriguez practices his art without much of an agenda. “(The police) let me work without any problems, because my paintings are rather ambiguous and can prove confusing.” He’s left alone.

Less ambiguous is the work by Danilo Maldonado Machado aka el Sexto (the sixth). His ‘tag’ is a 5-pointed star – representing five Cuban spies being held in the United States. He represents all Cuban people in their ‘fight’ for basic human rights.

On December 25, 2014, el Sexto was arrested while taking two piglets, painted military green and named Fidel and Raúl, to Havana’s Parque Central. He was on his way to participate in a performance of Rebelión en la Granja (Animal Farm). His intention was to free the piglets after the performance so that families could capture them for Christmas dinner.el Sexto

Maldonado, under surveillance and repeatedly arbitrarily arrested since his true identity was revealed during his first arrest, was apprehended and accused of the crime of ‘disrespect’.

One thinks he might’ve done better to keep his little buddies’ names less obvious but, he was born and reared (in his own country) to challenge the status quo – expressing his opinion, as a artistic, political dissident is wont to do – and should have the freedom to do so. Free speech, political opinion and artistic expression should not be treated as crimes.

“I believe a government that suppresses peaceful dissent is not showing strength;
it is showing weakness and it is showing fear.”
US President Barack Obama

Maldonado began a hunger strike in prison on September 8th taking only water. He was in an isolation cell. His mother went public with video requesting his release. Amnesty International also asked for his release. A petition was sent to the pope prior to his visit requesting his intercession. But, although over 3500 prisoners were released before the Papal visit, political prisoners were not among them. With body fading but spirit free, Maldonado awaited a trial date while his file had been reportedly ‘lost’.


In April, 2015, Maldonado received the Vaclav Havel El Sexto 2International Prize for Creative Dissent from the New York-based Human Rights Foundation. After ten months without official charges, he was finally freed in October 2015.

March 20, 2016 Maldonado was arrested along with hundreds of others during the usual peaceful Sunday march of the female dissident group Ladies in White – hours before President Barack Obama’s visit to Havana.  He was later released.

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