Fusterlandia: The Mystical Havana Neighborhood of the Caribbean Gaudí
An American journalist named it Fusterlandia (Fusterland), and it is by that name that everyone already knows this place located in the coastal town of Jaimanitas, turned into a community project 25 years ago, thanks to the ingenuity of Cuban artist José Antonio Rodríguez Fuster.
The facades, walls, benches and bus stops of this scenic neighborhood located in the most northwestern tip of Havana remind us of the style with which Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí imbued the city of Barcelona, especially the “Guell Park”.
Dozens of tourists from around the world arrive every day at this secluded site of Havana’s geography, interested in walking through one of Havana‘s most famous neighborhoods. And it is an option that is absolutely cost free.
From the moment you get off the bus in Jaimanitas, you will be interacting with an impressive open-air community gallery, where José Antonio Rodríguez Fuster has left his mark on the homes of neighbors, parks and even the local doctor’s health post.
It is a project with European influences but an unequivocal Cuban flavor: sculptures, mosaics and tiles with palm trees, guajiros (farmworkers) with hats, trees, roosters, deities and Cuban flags are all in there!
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Welcome to Fusterlandia
Decorated water tanks, very typical of Cuban homes where the precious liquid is scarce, are also part of the scenery of the place, as well as the striking house entrances with poetic phrases or the names of their owners: “Doña Iris, Princess Diana or María Bonita”.
The feeling of those who visit Fusterlandia is always the same: in this Havana neighborhood, anything can be a canvas to express Fuster‘s ideas.
At about 11 in the morning of a hot day, PanamericanWorld’s crew arrived at Fuster’s studio in Jaimanitas, and we spent at least an hour with this renowned Cuban painter, sculptor, potter and artist in every sense of the word.
“The beginning of everything can be traced back to my early years, when I started studying at the School of Art Instructors in Havana. That is when I discovered Gaudí’s work, and I remember a teacher telling me: “you have Gaudian influence; I see you designing cities and towns. At that time I was a 16 or 17-year old young man and did not understand what he was trying to tell me, but in time I did, when on unrelated occasions of my artistic life I felt the mark of Antonio Gaudí”.
But while Fuster acknowledges that there is a strong influence of this Catalan artist in his work, he says that the one who really caught his attention was Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, author of three important works to which Fuster pays tribute in Jaimanitas: “The Gate of the Kiss ”,“ The Infinite Column ”and“ The Table of Silence ”.
“At the beginning this was my home, a tiny little two-bedroom house, but we grew, little by little, over the years”, Fuster explained while pointing to the large room that serves as his workshop today.
The cornerstone of Fusterlandia was the entrance door, a tribute to Brancusi and the result of a wide collection of ceramics owned by the artist since the eighties when he was a well-known potter. “I told myself, why am I going to sell those pieces; I am going to put them here so that the public can look at them. From there on, I thought it would be a good idea to continue doing the same”, he explained.
Anything can be a canvas for Fuster
“The fact that my work spilled over to the rest of the community came as a result of individual needs. A neighbor would tell me: why don’t you make me my wall, why don’t you put my name on it, and so, little by little, I was also leaving a mark on those places”.
Fuster’s work has transformed the community of which he is part and has turned his art into pieces with enormous utilitarian sense, which in turn lend life to the town of Jaimanitas.
“All these interventions in the homes of neighbors are completely free. Nobody pays for anything here”, says the artist, who points out that all the projects in the community are subsidized with the money raised from the sale of his pieces. “We have never charged anyone to decorate part of their house, nor do we charge an entrance fee to visit the workshop”.
For this Caribbean genius, the result of his work is strongly dependent upon the materials obtained in Cuba. When seen from afar, it really seems like an appropriate style for the island, where recycling is a culture. Thus, any fragment of ceramic can become work material for Fuster, in combination with other materials such as ferrocement, rods, sand, stones, and adhesive cement.
However, like any regular Cuban, Fuster must face the problems concerning the scarcity of construction materials. “This issue has often forced us to stop projects,” he said.
The assembly time to complete his work is relative. For example, Fuster explains, a bus stop can take about two weeks to build if we work tirelessly; while other more complex works can take even up to two years.
“I have a work team that lives in the area and has been with me for 25 years. Some members have joined recently, but the essence is that I have been creating a group of specialists who are dedicated to everything within this project. We are talking about a very complex job that requires various specialties”, he confessed.
Fuster’s Dreams for Fusterlandia
There is still much to do in Fusterlandia. The neighbors continue to ask the artist to design their facades and Fuster ensures that his project will continue to do things for the community.
As we were ready to take our leave, we saw a group of men working on the plaque of a house from a distance, so we asked, what will that be? Fuster told us that they are scheduled to build a tapas bar, which will become another option for the community and its visitors. Outside of Jaimanitas, Fuster’s work can be seen in hospitals, education centers or police stations, but nothing as representative as Jaimanitas, a Havana site reminiscent of Gaudí’s modernism that has stood the test of time since 21st Century Cuba.
Written by M.C. Ramón. PanamericanWorld. Havana