Fusterlandia

places

There are two main reasons to travel to Jaimanitas, the tiny fishing town outside of Havana, Cuba, and they’re both absolutely worth it.

One reason is to visit Santy Pescador, the waterfront restaurant run by “Santy”, a former friend of Fidel and the best fish chef in the small island nation (which Anthony Bourdain frequently attested to). Most of Santy’s fish is procured directly from passing fisherman, who yell up to the patio with their daily catch.

The other reason to go, and what the majority of the touristas are there to gawk at, is the wonderful, dazzling, surreal world of Jose Rodriguez Fuster: Fusterlandia.

José Rodríguez Fuster (b. 1949) is a Cuban naive artist who chose to take his art out of the studio and into the neighborhood, and by that we mean literally take over an entire section of it. Dubbed the “Picasso of the Caribbean”, Fuster specializes in sculpture and colorful tile mosaics, and the hard-drinking artist has been at it for decades. In 1975, after moving in and decorating his own residence, Fuster asked his neighbors if he could add some of his work to their houses. Soon after it was the doctor’s office, then the two bus stops, then the post office, and so on. Fusterlandia, as it came to be known, now encompasses multiple streets and around 80 buildings, including two public pools and an outdoor theatre.

If Fusterlandia is to be looked at as an explosion of art, Fuster’s home is the epicenter. His yard is brimming with large fanciful sculptures, and his two story home is covered in colorful mosaics, with a massive communal chess board out front. This being Cuba, a lot of the art has political undertones (and overtones), and Fuster never shies away from his Communist beliefs. There’s a 25 foot-tall tribute to the five Cuban agents who were caught and jailed in the US for spying, known in Cuba as the “Five Heroes”, on the outer wall of his house.

Not only has Fuster’s beautiful vision altered the actual landscape of Jaimanitas, it’s changed the way of life. As a newly-minted destination for tourists, the formerly “economically depressed” neighborhood has seen an upswing in restaurants, gift shops, and places to stay. 

Fuster has now been working on Fusterlandia for over three decades. When asked how he consistently keeps at it:

I say what Hemingway said. I work every day. If inspiration exists, let it surprise me working.