Cuba has had more than its share of hard times over the last 50 years but José Fuster has proven that one man can make a perceptible difference by using his (considerable) talents to be a good neighbor.
Born in Havana in 1946 Fuster chooses to live in the poor neighborhood of Jaimanitas on the northwestern edge of Havana. Poverty has a tendency to be drab but Fuster has decorated his home and those of his neighbors for more than 30 years. The area is now commonly referred to as “Fusterlandia”.
How Fuster developed his artistic vision
How did this man from a poor fishing village become an internationally renowned artist who chose to use his talents in this way? When he was 14 years old he was one of the “teachers” recruited for a major literacy effort that was undertaken in Cuba. That opportunity led him to Havana where he enrolled, in 1963, at the First School for Art Instructors, which was created after the revolution.
When visiting Fuster’s home I was lucky enough to have a chance to briefly interview his son and business manager Alex (who is a physician). Fuster was in the Dominican Republic that day buying materials to create more art.
Alex explained that his father had an opportunity to see the works of Gaudi in Barcelona and Brancusi in Romania and was influenced by their designs and Gaudi’s use of ceramics. Picasso, the unconventional and controversial Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria and nature also fed Fuster’s vision for the work he wanted to create. So did his view of himself as a “man of the sea” who came from a fishing community.
That’s a lot of influences to combine! Today he would probably be medicated to subdue his visions but luckily that wasn’t in vogue when Fuster embarked on his neighborhood adventure.
Fuster set up his studio/home in Jaimanitas and began to create it into a work of art that is sort of Gaudi meets Picasso, they take LSD, smash a lot of china and get to work!
Fuster’s dream for his neighborhood
Fuster began to achieve fame as his work was exhibited internationally (with the exception of the U.S. where he was barred from visiting). As he started to make money he decided to use some of it to realize his dream of turning not only his home but his neighborhood into art.
For more than 30 years he has been decorating his neighbor’s homes at no cost to them. Clearly they are not subject to the rules of a condo Board or this never could have happened!
How Fuster works with his neighbors to create a world of whimsy
Fuster meets with interested neighbors, they agree on a theme and then he and his “brigade” of helpers take it from there. These neighbors are not people who spend a month looking at paint chips to pick a shade of white. These are fearless people who are willing to go in on a grand scale to turn their homes from depressing to fascinating. HGTV and their home decorators could get some serious inspiration from Fuster’s approach!
In a country where most people are very poor and barely getting by they cannot afford to spend any money at all on home repairs or decorations. They have to try to figure out how to stretch the food they get from their ration books and are not in a position to engage in whimsy.
In Jaimanitas the unpretentious and generous Fuster delivers the whimsy.
(And I thought a neighbor who sometimes pulls my garbage can back from the curb was really doing some major chipping in to improve the community!)
FCC disclosure: Blonde visited Cuba one a Gate1Travel Discovery tour. She received an appreciated discount but not nearly enough to get her to say anything she doesn’t believe. She is willing to say that we had a really terrific tour director in Daniel Guzman!