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Havana Artist Brings Vintage Cuban Neon Signs Back to Life

Pre-Castro-era signs revitalized

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Cuba’s fascination with vintage American cars has been well documented. Because of a U.S. Cuban embargo that stood for more than 50 years after Fidel Castro established a Marxist regime after dictator Fulgencio Batista’s ouster, the island nation had no access to modern American autos. As such, many Cubans took tremendous pains to keep their tail-fin-laden cars well maintained. I highly recommend watching David Schendel’s 2002 documentary Yank Tanks for insights into how classic-car culture pervades Cuba (though I won’t recommend some of these gearheads’ methods, such as custom-fabricating parts made from asbestos). Similarly, mid-century Havana under Batista’s rule featured another American cultural staple: neon-lit signs and movie-theater marquees. As with U.S. autos, the marquees aged, fell into disrepair and eventually went dark.

However, as Cuba begins to shake off its isolated past and resume relations with the U.S., a Cuban artist is working to restore 10 theater signs for the 12th Bienal de La Habana, an every-other-year celebration of Cuban art and culture. Kadir Lopez Nieves has spent approximately a decade reclaiming unused porcelain-enamel signage from Havana and transforming it into art exhibits. However, he grew dissatisfied with confining his work to exhibits, and has instead created a methodology that he calls En Poder Practica Social. En Poder means “in power”, which he said stands for “empowering the people of the city through my work, playing with the concept of electricity and illumination.”

He continued, “I look forward to doing my part in relighting the neighborhoods of my beloved Havana. I am committed to work on preserving and relighting every single sign that still stands in the city … as long as it takes.”
For a more in-depth look at the project, visit Nieves’ Facebook page, www.facebook.com/enpoderpracticasocial
 

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