Crew Profile

Crew Blog | Todd Yamashita: Community of Cuban Art

Todd's PVS Headshot 9-2014Written by Todd Yamashita

Human teeth make for an interesting if not slightly creepy grin on what appears to be a well-sculpted life-sized bronze. If you look carefully however, the teeth are dentures and the statue is actually made from concrete, faux-finished to look like bronze.

The sculpture is a cheerful juxtaposition to a community that might otherwise appear to be in decay. In fact, there is sculpture everywhere – a pair of owls welded together from discarded car parts, colorful murals that spill across walls and fences connecting neighboring homes, transforming adjacent blocks into an eclectic celebration of the arts.

A pair of owls sculpted from scrap metal.
A pair of owls sculpted from scrap metal.

Hōkūleʻa crewmembers are visiting Muraleando art center to discover how this humble community has been drawn together not only to beautify and lift its streets, but to teach art and music to its youth and neighbors. What was once a large defunct concrete water tank and trash heap, has been transformed into a sculpted labyrinth of walkways, gardens, a dance and performance area, gallery and stores – mālama honua with a creative touch.

“When love and intelligence come together they can create a true masterpiece,” said Victor Rodrigues Sanchez, our host who is a ceramicist, English language teacher and writer for the center. Indeed this place is a masterpiece. Sanchez is in his 60’s and he wears a permanent grin as he describes the efforts of his comrades to work with the Cuban government to create the center.

Kawika, Shawn, Kalepa and Puaita listen in as Rodriguez Sanchez shares stories about the art center.
Kawika, Shawn, Kalepa and Puaita listen in as Rodriguez Sanchez shares stories about the art center.

“Trust in the right hands can become art,” he explained. Years ago the group petitioned skeptical authorities to handover the derelict property. They started with the large water tank – clearing it from trash, cutting out windows and an entry way, and fortifying its ceiling strong enough to hold a couple hundred people including a live band dancing audience. Today there are around 200 similar art communities throughout Cuba and according to Sanchez, this one has been recognized as the most successful.

Perhaps the success directly correlates to the group’s depth of creativity: every creation here has a uniques story behind it. Crewmembers who sat atop a sculpted bench were told of a hundred year old woman who frequented the boulder from whence the seat was made. Neighbors would find her there late at night. When asked why she was there, she’d always replied that she was waiting for her lover. “This was saying to us, you’re never too old love, and we remember this when we sit here,” said Sanchez.

A sculpture is brought to life with donated dentures.
A sculpture is brought to life with donated dentures.

And the false teeth in that statue? A neighbor had donated them and insisted they’d be used somehow. By implementing neighborhood stories like these into art, the center keeps its volunteers engaged. In fact, there were about two dozen people working on various projects during our time there and Sanchez explained that even the most complex project takes a matter of months, if not weeks to complete.

A vocalist gets the croud moving with salsa and other latin performances.
A vocalist gets the croud moving with salsa and other latin performances.

Crewmembers and others from our Hawaii-based group were treated to live music on the rooftop of the tank. Performers played instruments, some of which were crafted from scrap metal, while vocalists engaged the audience to partake in salsa dancing. Later our group met with resident artists and purchased original paintings, photos and jewelry. 50% of all proceeds generated by artists go back toward the center’s buildout, programming and supplies.  They do extremely well considering there aren’t any other forms of granting or support from the private sector or Cuban government.

Many from our group discussed how communities in Hawaii and the states might benefit from similar types of projects. Wyland, our group’s most notable artist, sketched a turtle and signed it to commemorate our visit. Crewmembers also performed an oli mahalo and presented donations and gifts. We explained the meaning of mālama honua and while the words for them were new, it was obvious their practice of caring for our island earth was remarkable and hopeful.  We thanked and praised Sanchez and the other friendly volunteers and artists for the inspirational work our Cuban hosts had accomplished.


More than Adventure

Beyond a daring expedition, the Worldwide Voyage is quite possibly the most important mission that Hawaiʻi has ever attempted. As people of Oceania, we are leading a campaign that gives voice to our ocean and planet by highlighting innovative solutions practiced by cultures around the planet.

We could not have begun this great journey without your support, nor can we continue to its completion.

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