The artist carving the lithograph spoke very little English. My Spanish is embarrassingly limited. I was standing by his side watching him work, while he tried to explain to me the aspects within his art. As we spoke, he started to describe the woman he was detailing. He tells me it is “La Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre”. She is the Santeria patron saint of Cuba. I struggle to keep up with him, but recognize one key word, “Caridad”. I smile. That’s my name, I tell him. “Me llamo Caridad…Charity” He smiles too, happy to have made such an odd connection with this random tourist lady from Colorado. We talk more about their patron saint, and her importance to Cuba. He tells me about the symbolism in his art.
La Virgin de la Caridad is actually a statue of the Virgin Mary with ties to a small mining town, El Cobre, outside of Santiago in Southwest Cuba. This shrine is considered the most important religious site on the island. The statue was said to have been discovered near the coast of El Cobre floating in the water. The statue of Mary, carrying the Christ child, floated on a board bearing an inscription “Yo so la Virgen de la Caridad” – I am the Virgin of Charity. The statue, and the future saint Caridad del Cobre is credited with many miracles. In 1916, the Pope visited the shrine and declared her the patron saint of Cuba. The town built the El Cobre Basilica to house the statue.
Before leaving the enclave, we exchange email addresses, so I can buy one of his lithographs when he finishes. He tells me in a hopeful voice he’d like to travel to New Mexico to exhibit. I hope he gets to make the trip. He’s art is beautiful, and speaks to me more personally now after having a chance encounter with him in his home town.
The artist community in Havana, and across Cuba is thriving – always has, always will. Its deep in the Cuban DNA. Music, art, food, dance all mix together to create something unique to the island people.
The Fusterlandia was one of the oddest pieces of art, with which I’ve ever interacted. Built by José Rodríguez Fuster is more than a city block of mosaics, culminating on the artist property turned tourist trap. I’ll let the picture speak for itself!
We were invited to a private viewing with a local dance troop, Habana Compás. They have a traveled into the US a few times, most recently to Tampa. Their dance and music is a mix of Afro-Caribbean and Spanish. They use their bodies as instruments, stomping while they dance and cow-hide wrapped wooden chairs as drums. They also use a Latin America percussion instrument, güiro, made from dried gourds to set the beat. Its loud and busy, and a lot of fun to watch.
I fully recognize that as Americans, we saw a sanitized version of Cuba. Didn’t matter. The conversations were real and the art was beautiful.
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