Between the National Museum of Fine Arts in the old town of Havana, the revolutionary graffiti scattered around the country or the huge, beautiful murals on many street corners, Cuba has a rich tradition of art. However, none are quite so strange or unique as Fusterlandia.
Beyond the border of Havana Veija, past Vedado, and nestled next to the Hemingway Marina lies Jaimanitas; a once run-down neighbourhood that has been transformed in to a sprawling fantasy land due to the vision of Cuban artist Jose Fuster.
Jose Rodriguez Fuster was a well renowned artist long before the idea for Fusterlandia had even began to germinate in his mind. Graduating from Escuela Nacional de Instructores de Arte in the 1960’s, Fuster began displaying his drawings, paintings and ceramics around Havana before being commissioned to show his work all over Europe, his slightly surreal dipictions of people earning him the nickname ‘The Picasso of the Caribbean’. It was during his time in Europe that Fuster became inspired by the public works of Gaudi and Brâncuși, hoping that on his return he could create something similar in his own country.
In 1975 Fuster moved to Jaimanitas, at the time a small, rundown fishing town on the edge of Havana and set about decorating his studio in mosaic and painted tiles. It wasn’t long before Jose started asking neighbours if he could decorate their buildings too and now, a few decades later, his art has spilled over from his house and now covers the whole neighbourhood; medical centres, playgrounds, benches and bus stops all bear his signature art.
The bus dropped us off on Avenida 5ta, the main artery out of the city, at the entrance to the neighbourhood. It was already clear we were in the right place when we saw that the bus shelter was covered in tiny red, blue and yellow tiles, a colourful, curving tentacle-like sculpture rising from its top, looping around and then returning back to the roof. Almost every surface in the town was adorned with tiles, each one painted with a different image – some by Fuster, some by friends, guests or people from the local community. If you have ever seen Jorge Selarón’s work on Escadaria Selarón, you will have a good idea of what to expect.
I wasn’t sure where to find Fuster’s studio. It wasn’t marked in my lonely planet and I hadn’t had the internet during my time in Havana so Google Maps was a no-go. I set about walking until in the hope of stumbling upon it. Around every turn were more colourful mosaics covering everything; houses, pavements, lamp posts and walls. It is thought that Fuster has decorated over 80 houses in the neighbourhood now, and he shows no sign of stopping.
If I had any doubts as to where Fusterlandia was, they soon melted away when I saw the extravagant arch bending over the entrance, the bright colours inviting visitors in to Fuster’s surreal ceramic world. I stepped through in to his garden and my jaw dropped. Over the last 30 years he has set about transforming his home and studio into a 3 story maze of walkways, sculptures and staircases. Handmade ceramic creatures rise out of rooftops, curve around the staircases and arc over patios. Figures made from shards of decorative glass welcome visitors at every turn. What once started as a small vision is now a vast complex of structures and sculptures. Patriotic red, white and blue tributes to his home nation cover walls and chimney stacks, small clusters of installations are dedicated to Santerian spirits while other displays are joyful works containing people and animals with no distinct message whatsoever.
It is clear to all that Selarón, Picasso and Gaudi were all huge influences on Fuster’s work and he pays playful tributes to them with representations of their art hidden throughout his home.
Although it is open to the public, Jose Fuster still works and lives in the complex. If you’re lucky he will be around, working away in his studio on even more tiles to add to his life work. When we visited he was away but we managed to see his son and other assistants diligently covering ceramics with colour.
What was once an economically depressed area has been bolstered by Fuster’s art. Tourists from all over the world are stopping in this once quiet neighbourhood to admire his now-sprawling work of public art. Children that have grown up in Jaimanitas have been inspired by Jose’s work leading to a generation of artists living and working in the area. If you are in Havana, a visit to Fusterlandia is a must.
The easiest way to visit Fusterlandia is to board one of the hop-on hop-off tour busses at Parque Central and stay on board until the last stop before it turns around. The stop is named La Cecilia. From there it is a fairly cheap taxi ride to up Avenida 5ta to Jaimanitas or you can hop aboard another bus (T2) that will take you to Fusterlandia. Just be sure to tell the driver that this is where you’re heading as you may be the only passenger getting off here.
Fusterlandia is free to enter but it is worth taking some cash as Jose Fuster sells tiles and original artwork to pay for the transformation of Jaimanitas.
Have you been to Havana and did you get to see Fusterlandia? Let me know in the comments below.
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