Today was a free day. There were so many events scheduled in different places and at different times for the Havana Biennial, that we set aside a day to meander through the streets and sites of Havana independently. That being said, I made a great many suggestions of things to do. There were samba festivals, Santeria galleries, art schools, synagogues, historic museums, and places of interest to visit. Julie and I decided to continue on our quest to find Cuban art – the thing we came here to do. The first stop on our schedule was a women’s art collective located in Vedado. Vedado is a neighborhood marked by beautiful mansions that have fallen into disrepair; lovely boulevards once dotted with the most exclusive residences, but now occupied by the under-class; socialist-style.
Some are being re-built by artists who have access to hard currency from the West. In one of these re-habbed buildings, we found the women’s collective. 6 women artists of various mediums occupy this chic space. And they have air-conditioning, which is a huge plus. We wandered through rooms dedicated to individual artists until one of our friends, Suzy found an artist’s work that she loved. We all gathered around to help her make her selections. She chose two large canvases representing sunlight at various times of the day. They are exquisite works by a very talented artist. The works were set aside for Suzy and were delivered to her hotel several days later, with the proper export certificates allowing her to bring the works home with her. Our next stop was at ISA, the famed art-school built by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara on the site of the once-exclusive Havana Country Club. ISA was to be a testament to the success of the Revolution, but quickly became a testament to its failure.
The school was to be completed by two famous Italian Architects, but as it turned out, their vision didn’t match with the vision of the revolutionary leaders. The buildings were designed to mimic the sexuality of a woman. The main courtyard was designed to include a fountain in the shape of a vagina, with water-ways leading away from it representing fallopian tubes. The individual buildings represented women’s breasts; nipples and all. Suffice it to say, it was too much for the revolutionary leaders to handle and it remained unfinished for almost 40 years. Although art students continued to attend the institution, it remained in a dilapidated state until the late 90’s when construction continued. It is still a work in progress, but is home to some of the best artists in Cuba. Julie and I selected two pieces from two different artists; both women. We had them delivered to our hotel a few days later with the appropriate export documentations, as was done for Suzy.
We continued with our day at the Patronato Synagogue in Vedado, where we delivered humanitarian aid to the children and adults of the Jewish Community. With help from our friends at home, we collected donations of food, medicine and school supplies for the synagogue. We met with Hella Ashkenazi and watched a salsa lesson at the Hebrew School. We visited the sanctuary of the temple on a guided tour, then returned to our hotel for the obligatory afternoon rest. We relaxed on the rooftop of our hotel with a pizza and beer before setting out on a ride in a classic car to see Revolutionary Square and cruise the Malecon. The evening ended at Fabrica, an art space dedicated to urban artists who are up and coming in Havana. All in all, it was another great day.