Located near downtown Havana, Cuba, is the humble village of Jaimanitas — an unobtrusive coastal town that has recently become the canvas for celebrated artist José Rodríguez Fuster’s dreamscape.
Who is José Rodríguez Fuster?
In 1975, Fuster converted his house into an art museum by embellishing it with brightly colored mosaic tiles, unknowingly creating the epicenter of his future mission to bring something rebellious and magical to his hometown. Cuban born and well known in his country as an artist that specializes in painting, engraving, drawing, graphics, and ceramics, José has spent over a decade actively trying to advance the art scene in Jaimanitas.
Fuster’s unique public art project is comprised of over 80 hand-decorated buildings, including a few homes which the locals happily handed over to be adorned with his opulent murals. His work tends to portray the personalities of his neighbors so that all of his artistry is both relatable and representative of his proud community. His “naive” artistic style also makes use of childlike imagery, crude shapes, and bright color palettes to convey a cartoon-like surrealism.
Fuster also designed a life-size chess park for his community, complete with giant boards and tables, a public swimming pool, a theater, and “The Artists’ Wall,” which itself boasts dozens of signed tiles donated from other Cuban artists. Fuster’s work is sponsored by the sales of his other ceramics and paintings and relies on canvas donations from those wanting to get their homes involved in order to expand the ever-growing project.
What Inspired the Project?
Inspired by his overseas travels to Europe and visits to public projects like Gaudí’s Park Güell in Barcelona, Fuster came back to his hometown and immediately began the process of turning the impoverished community into an artistic and phantasmagorical wonderland. His own home, “Taller-Estudio José Fuster,” began the story of the now-kaleidoscopic neighborhood that is filled with labyrinthine walkways, intricate mosaics, sculptures, and passages. Put that all together, and you get what is now known as “Fusterlandia.”
On a sign near the town’s entrance, the project is declared to be an homage to Gaudí, which becomes apparent almost as soon as you pass through the first curved tilings and sculptures. Fuster’s surrealist and whimsical impressions have led many to dub him the “Picasso of the Caribbean.” The town is abundant in Caribbean icons: chickens, crocodiles, palm trees, Cuban flags, folklore, and Santería.
Other Cuban artists like Eduardo Roca Salazar (also known as Choco) and Zaida del Rio have also contributed to the neighborhood, furthering its importance to both the locals and Cuban culture in general. José’s objective is to create the largest mural in the world, and his neighbors are more than keen to get involved! Fusterlandia really stands as a testament to how architecture can transcend physical functionality and become a spectacular tool in shaping a harmonious community.
Fuster’s colorful tiles are now covering bus stops, benches, doctors’ offices, gateways. fountains, homes, and businesses — a sure sign that Jaimanitas is slowly being consumed by the artist’s imagination. Of course, Fusterlandia has helped the Cuban economy by hoarding in tourists and those dying to lay their eyes on the encapsulating kingdom. Those who want to see the town are bused in to admire it between the hours of 9:30 AM and 4 PM. Admittance is completely free, though the locals rely heavily on merchandise sales to keep their town beaming!