From an essay on Cuban art collecting to a Billboard take on el paquete and the island’s music industry, this season has brought in-depth, thought-provoking coverage of Cuban art and culture. Here are our picks for must-read stories, plus a video.

Smithsonian magazine

The Man Who Saved Havana

The cover story in the May 2018 “Exploration” issue ran a full 16 pages in the print edition, and appears in full online, with a side story on “The evolution of architecture in Old Havana.”

“Perhaps only on this island obsessed with its operatic past could a historian become a celebrity on a par with a Clooney or DiCaprio,” wrote Tony Perrottet. “Eusebio Leal is the official historian of the city of Havana, a regal-sounding position that brings with it enormous influence and exposure—he starred for many years in his own TV show where he explored Old Havana’s streets—and he is as far from the cliché of the dusty, isolated academic as it is possible to get. In fact, Leal is credited with almost single-handedly bringing Old Havana from the brink of ruin to its current status as the most ravishing and vibrant architectural enclave in the Western Hemisphere.” (In English)

A view of the Capitolio in Havana
Photo: Nestór Martí, courtesy Smithsonian magazine

Atlas Obscura

The Modern Lives of Cuba’s Old Movie Theaters

“The photographer Carolina Sandretto spent the past four years tackling what turned out to be a massive undertaking: documenting 398 of Cuba’s remaining cinemas,” wrote Anika Burgess in her introduction to this photo essay. “It was an experience that, Sandretto says, was a source of near constant surprise. ‘As I never had a precise map of where the cinemas were located or even if they were still existing, each one was a discovery and an achievement on its own,’ she says. For this project, now a book called Cines de Cuba, Sandretto scoured the country for remaining movies houses—some of which are still operational, some repurposed, others left to decay.” (In English)

Inside the Cine Cuba, Santiago de Cuba
Photo: Carolina Sandretto, courtesy Atlas Obscura


Inside El Paquete: The Underground File Exchange That Makes or Breaks New Artists

“At 12 noon on Thursdays, you can find Abdel, better known as La Esencia (“The Essence”) in a tiny room in his home in West Havana, furiously copying music and videos onto a hard drive,” wrote Leila Cobo. “Someone knocks: It’s an artist wearing heavy gold chains and wielding his new single, which he hopes La Esencia will add, in a prominent spot, to one of the many music lists he curates for this week’s El Paquete.

“Many things have changed since Obama eased restrictions on Cuba in 2016, with tourism increasing exponentially and Internet hotspots popping up around the city. But high-speed Internet remains a rare commodity, and streaming music, much less streaming video, is a luxury very few can access or afford. Enter El Paquete, or “the package,” the name Cubans have given to a massive, one-tetrabyte hard drive that is curated weekly and includes nearly 100 folders packed with videos, TV series, award shows, classified ads, and music.” (In English)

Gente de Zona, hitmakers on Billboard and “el paquete”
Courtesy Magnus Talent and Billboard

On Cuba

La ubre del humor gráfico cubano

(The Udder of Cuban Graphic Humor)

Cuba’s long tradition of graphic humor gets an update in Alejandro Ruiz Chang’s profile of La ubre (The Udder), a studio and art space in Vedado run by five young artists—all of them specializing in graphic humor.

“’The objective of the studio,’ says Michel, ‘is to promote mainly young and avant-garde graphic humor and somehow have a place where interested people could show and see works.’ Although this type of art is mainly created for print media, the artists try this initiative to be an artistic, visual and expositive variant.

“Yaimel says that ‘graphic humor approaches all topics, as we attempt to cover all things happening in society. Techniques are diverse and in our studio, for example, we all know how to draw, others are painters or make silk screen painting or engravings. The fact of being classified into a certain tendency sometimes lies on the way people receive it. When we often see the press and there is a work not well printed or drawn we consider this art inferior, but when we see the same work hanging on the wall, we realize it is like any other work.” (In Spanish)

Michel Moro in La Ubre
Photo: Gabriela Mejias, courtesy OnCuba

C& Latin America / América Latina

Good Times, But We Should Look Beyond the “Boom”

Buenos tiempos, pero hay que ver más allá del “boom”

 In a short essay in the magazine and website C& Latin America, art historian and curator Aldeide Delgado takes stock of recent international exhibitions of Cuban art and the initiatives taken by collectors such as Jorge Pérez and Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, among others.

“The support of the production of exhibitions, books and research projects through the collaboration with renowned museums, universities and curators enable the study of otherwise silenced artistic periods and stimulates the production from young artists. Furthermore, it encourages the commercial dynamic of the Cuban art market.”

“On January 25th 2018, the online platform Cuban Art News, founded by collectors Howard and Patricia Farber with the objective to promote recognition and comprehension of Cuban art, published a report on an initiative by the Phillips auction house: to incorporate Latin American art in the international contemporary art sales. The sales records of Cuban artists such as Carmen Herrera surpass a million dollars while others, like Zilia Sánchez, Mario Carreño, Tomás Sánchez, Roberto Fabelo and Alexander Arrechea achieve noteworthy prices.” (In English and Spanish)

A view of the exhibition “Art x Cuba – Contemporary Perspectives Since 1989” in Aachen
Courtesy C& Latin America / América Latina


VIDEO: Academy Close-Up: Cuban Film Restoration

Produced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—the folks behind the Oscars—this 5-minute video introduces the years-long collaboration between the Cinemateca de Cuba and the Academy in preserving Una Pelea Cubana contra Los Demonios (A Cuban Fight Against the Demons, 1972) and Los Sobrevivientes (The Survivors, 1979) by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. A fascinating look into the work of film restoration and the amazing results. With a classic quote from Casablanca. (In English and Spanish)