Lonely Planet Writer

Old Havana neighbourhood embraces Cuba's emerging artists

A group of children look on as a tattooed stranger paints a pair of big green eyes on the wall outside a house at San Isidro, one of Old Havana’s less-empowered neighbourhoods. The once industrial town is steadily becoming a burgeoning stronghold of Cuban contemporary art – within five or so walkable blocks visitors will find vivid murals and art galleries amid former warehouses. Striking urban art explodes on decaying facades and houses’ exterior walls. Expect vivid eyeballs, geometric tigers, cultural icons’ faces, and demons.

Wall mural in San Isidro, Havana. Photo by: Diana Rita Cabrera

Adan Perugorría, a young musician and promoter of the art project behind San Isidro’s revitalisation, told Lonely Planet News that it all started at his family’s art gallery, Gallería Taller Gorría. It soon evolved into a bigger cultural scheme that included the Office of the City Historian helping them find a bigger space and, most importantly, the community actively participating in their festivals.

Gallería Taller Gorrí, Havana. Photo by: Diana Rita Cabrera

With the friendly assistance of artists such as @Abstrk and Stephen Palladino  – who usually collaborate in Wynwood’s art district in MiamiUS – they were able to bring top-class urban artists from the US and Puerto Rico, to celebrate San Isidro’s cultural traditions and translate them into evocative murals. The first mural appeared in December 2017 on a public space right in front of Galería Taller Gorría, when a group of Cuban and foreign artists made a collage of styles and designs that later spread throughout the rest of the town.

Colourful mural in Havana’s San Isidro neighbourhood. Photo by: Diana Rita Cabrera

Perugorría and his team now host a multi-cultural one-day festival every other month, coinciding with new exhibitions at their galleries, new graffiti and murals, and music concerts at the town’s main parks. Also included on a single day are theatre performances, contemporary dance choreographies, body painting and more. The next Festival de Arte is set for 16 November, the day Havana officially starts to celebrate its 500th-anniversary year.

Festival de Arte begins on 16 November. Photo by: Diana Rita Cabrera

San Isidro and the adjacent neighbourhoods, although part of Havana’s oldest area and with a higher population density, aren’t as touristy as those closer to the main colonial squares like Plaza Vieja or Plaza de San Francisco de Asis. There are several abandoned buildings and public spaces here that could be used for artists to build their studios, Perugorría explained. The invitation is open for visual artists and musicians to establish themselves in Havana and share their work to a highly cultural audience, in need of a revitalisation of their surroundings.

Stay tuned to San Isidro’s art festivals here and get a glimpse of their work here.

By Diana Rita Cabrera