El Callejón de Hamel

A man adding to a mural in Callejón de Hamel. (Credit: © Aliet Arzola Lima) For more photos: http://bit.ly/Zu6jcY

A man adding to a mural in Callejón de Hamel. (Credit: © Aliet Arzola Lima) For more photos: http://bit.ly/Zu6jcY

On the wall of one of the entrances of the Callejón de Hamel is written: “Yo puedo esperar más que tú, porque soy el tiempo”—I can wait more than you because I am time. The author, Salvador Gonzalez Escalona, is a renowned painter, muralist, sculptor and metal craftsman who began the transformation of Hamel alley from slum to bustling Afro-Cuban cultural hub.

In 1989, the Ministry of Culture adopted an institutional system for cultural development programs. This meant rearranging the structure of the system of culture, in terms of its mission and vision. It was a strategic “business plan” with the respective segmentation of management by objectives and results. The “community” became key, and the attention to it, a priority. Enabling community environments through the accentuation of local identities expressed in groups, institutions, generations, and physical spaces.

Following this restructuring of the Ministry, the sociocultural project known as El Callejón de Hamel (Hamel Alley) was born in 1990. This was the year that Cuban relations with the European countries, especially after the fall of the USSR, begins to deteriorate and the country enters what is known as the Special Period. It came at a time of crisis, providing a cultural and recreational escape, to the inhabitants of the city. The project brought together visual art and music creating what some describe as a “magical experience.”

Salvador’s work began with the shaping of the first Afro-Cuban themed mural done on public roads in Cuba. This expressed the cultural politics of Cayo Hueso, as a territory, and calls out the spirit of the neighborhood—a traditional settlement of Cubans of African descent. The cultural impact of their work is given appreciate all art forms in national.

During it’s 20th anniversary 3 years ago, historian Elías Aceff Alfonso defined the Callejón project as “an example of urban transgression that gathers the first and only group of sculptures and murals dedicated to highlight the value of the Afro Cuban culture.”

Salvador Gonzalez himself describes the project:

“In reality, the Callejón de Hamel is a heavy load of poetic images and sculpture that you have to live through, as you have lived it in the rumba, in all of the goings on that take place around it. This is, for many, a thing of magic, because it is the result of a conversation with the orishas over a period of many years. It’s where you can see landing that white dove of Obbatalá that flies and flies and flies until it finds its place here.”

“Its walls express in one form or another the feeling of African art, that is the presence of African culture in our country. You will find here pieces of sculpture, overhanging roofs with many colors, poetry, images. A house that could be a temple, or that is a temple for this community. It is Black poetry that is in each house, which is at the same time a temple.”

The culture of Key West has a rich musical history as well, which included such musicians as the extraordinary drummer Chano Pozo (and rumba tradition in which he played a big role), and the guitarist Pancho Bravo. This project played a big role in maintaining these traditions, safeguarding an essential source of musical production in Cuba. It also led to the shifting of the cultural life of Central Havana to the Cayo Hueso neighborhood, which now includes other important cultural institutions and activities such as La Casa del Niño y la Niña (The House of the Child), el Callejón del Poeta (Poet Alley), el Proyecto Moros y Cristianos, la Cátedra Che Guevara, el Taller de Transformación Integral (The Integral Transformation Workshop), La Tintalla y la Casa del Son de Rosillo.

Not only has the Callejón gained international recognition and become a popular tourist destination, it has also been instrumental in reducing criminal activity in the younger generations, by offering them better uses of their free time. This monumental art project continues to encourage and educate people, making them more active and aware members of the community. The art there truly transcends time, preserving culture and creating history.

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