Before we move on to Vedado, I’d like to pause to give you a closer look at one of the most interesting aspects of Centro Habana: the graffiti.
As I mentioned in my previous post, there’s very little advertising in Cuba. You see the occasional product ad on the backs of bicitaxis, but that’s about it. Outside the cities, most of the billboards are about the Revolution or the Castro brothers (as we will see later on a trip to Cienfuegos and the Bay of Pigs).
Here’s a particularly vivid example from Habana Vieja, where one side of the corner celebrates Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement and states that “The Revolution Is the People” while the other side gives props to Hugo Chávez and Che Guevara.
All around the city, you’ll see what I call “official” street art: this includes everything from political propaganda to business and community organization signage to street markers.
Yet there’s also a good deal of “unofficial” graffiti. And much of this is to be found in Centro Habana.
I asked our guide Orelvis if there is a lot of street art in Havana. He shrugged and said, “Not so much. Havana’s not a city of graffiti.” But if you wander around Centro Habana, you can’t help but remark the prevalence of some subversive—well, let’s be socialist about it and say “ideologically impure”—graffiti.
These pieces seem to me to be by the same artist, though I can’t be sure.
But the graffiti below definitely seem to be the work of one person—perhaps it’s a series of self-portraits. I call him “El Graffito Bandito,” and his work is to be found all over Centro Habana, out in the open and hidden high and low. Always with a little “2+2=5” somewhere near the figure.*
*Later on during this trip, we would meet with Michel Encinosa Fú, a science-fiction author in Havana, who noted that Orwell’s work has only very recently become available in Cuba. He also explained that criticizing the government in this way is generally acceptable. It’s only when you call out specific politicians or local organizers by name that you find yourself in trouble with the authorities.
Now let’s continue on our way to Vedado …