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My Cuba Diaries: planet mosaic at Casa Fuster
A lesser-known attraction to the world famous Old Havana is to be found in Jaimanitas, at the northwestern edge of the Cuban capital, where Cuban artist José Rodriguez Fuster has built a fantasy world, by the name of Fusterlandia. During the course of 30 years, he set out to remake not only his home - where his studio workshop resides - but an entire neighborhood.
Upon arrival in Havana, stepping inside Casa Fuster is a surreal experience, not too mention unexpected to what is otherwise known about the Cuban capital. Reminiscent to Barcelona’s Parc Guell, Casa Fuster bursts as a pop of color and creative display of mosaics, as far as the eyes can see, in an otherwise gloomy neighborhood. Walls, doorways, pillars and arches, stretching for blocks around the epicenter of the studio enclave, are adorned with brightly colored sculptures and mosaics. The motifs are numerous: mermaids, fish, roosters, palm trees, red hearts, guajiros, as well as crafty stenciling of the Cuban flag; quotes from Cuban writers can also be found, along with noticeable slogans Viva Cuba (Long-live Cuba!). All in all, more than 80 neighbors have allowed Fuster to use their homes as his canvas.
In the eyes of the community, he is known as the “genius,” but in the eyes of the Cuban people, and the world, the prodigy artist goes by the “Picasso of the Caribbean.” The moniker is well deserved. In an interview with Havana Cultura, Fuster recognizes the great Picasso as his spiritual father. He follows in his footsteps by pursuing similar subjects - joy of living, musicians - and giving them life using his own vision. But perhaps, even more dominant in the community art space is Antonio Gaudi’s influence.
The motivation behind the extraordinary project was simple. Fresh off a trip in Europe where he had seen the works of Gaudi in Barcelona and Brancusi in Romania, he envisioned creating a studio, and implicitly a home, where he could live within art. And so, what initially seemed an impossible task to replicate in Cuba gradually became a reality. The small wooden house he had moved into decades ago slowly transitioned into a wonderland.
"It seemed impossible to me to do anything like that in Cuba. But all dreams get realized over time," Fuster said for Havana Cultura.
Despite his modest upbringing in Caibarién, a fishermen’s village on Cuba's North coast, the artist boasts exhibitions all over the world. Following his studies at the Escuela Nacional de Instructores de Arte in Havana, his talent attained international success, a gratitude that Fuster enjoys by giving back to the community. He spends some of his earnings from his work as an artist to improve his neighbors’ homes, redecorating their houses - a luxury most of which would never otherwise have the chance to experience.
For more of Jose Fuster’s work, head to the Center for Cuban Studies in New York City, to the Museo de la Cerámica Contemporánea Cubana, located within the Castillo de la Real Fuerza Havana, and to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana.
Casa Fuster, located at Calle 226, corner 3A, is open to the public, free of charge.
Monica Suma is a freelance travel writer. Follow her on Twitter @monicasuma.