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Cuban Artist Transforms Town Into Whimsical Wonderland

The town of Jaimanitas, located on the northwest side of Havana, Cuba, used to be a poor and dull neighborhood. Fortunately, in 1975, the town was transformed by local artist José Fuster and is now a dream of whimsical art and stunning attractions.

Born in 1946 in Caibarién, Cuba, Fuster grew up in a fishing village, according to Havana Club. He himself explained, “I come from a very ordinary family. My people were simple, making their living from little fishing boats or working in cooperative fisheries.” However, the fishing life was not something that attracted Fuster.

At the age of 14, Fuster began studying art in Havana and became a professional artist by the time he was 20, in 1966. Eventually, he took a trip to Europe and was exposed to the works of Antoni Gaudí in Barcelona and Constantin Brâncuși in Romania. Inspired, he dreamed of bringing art to his home in Cuba.

According to Atlas Obscura, “In 1975, after moving into a modest wood house in the rundown neighborhood of Jaimanitas outside Havana, Fuster set about decorating his studio in colorful mosaic.” He did not stop with just his studio. He asked his neighbors if he could decorate their homes, and this way Fuster’s artwork began to spread through the town.

“Over the course of a decade, doctors’ offices, bus stops, fountains, benches, gateways, and more were enveloped by Fuster’s whimsical imagination,” says Atlas Obscura. According to the Havana Club, today, over 80 neighbors’ homes and other buildings have been transformed by Fuster.

According to the Havana Club, “Roofs, walls, doorways and benches, stretching for blocks around the epicentre of his studio enclave, are adorned with his brightly coloured sculptures and mosaics: mermaids, fish, palm trees, roosters and Santería saints; quotations from Alejo Carpentier, Onelio Jorge Cardoso, and Ernest Hemingway.”

The area in Cuba thus transformed by Fuster became known as Fusterlandia, a fitting name. The bright colors, fun designs, and quirky structures almost make the artwork around town look like parts of a thrilling amusement park.

“I kept working every day to do something more and more spectacular … I wanted my studio to be a place where I could live with art. That was always my illusion, my idea. And I think, little by little, it became a reality,” Fuster said.

According to Atlas Obscura, “Jaimanitas was an economically depressed area before Fuster arrived, and now it has turned into an artist’s paradise.” Tourists are consistently brought into the neighborhood by bus to admire the artwork. Thus, they indirectly help finance the town.

“[Fuster] says he puts his own money he makes from selling his paintings and sculptures back into the community, redecorating his neighbour’s houses, incorporating them into Fusterlandia,” according to Havana Club. Not only was Fuster able to do something he loves with his artwork, but he was also able to help his town thrive.

The vibrant and wonderful setting of Fusterlandia is one-of-a-kind in the Cuban world of Jaimanitas, and definitely a place that merits a spot on your bucket list.

Featured Image by Dan Lundberg on Flickr
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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