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Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejon de Hamel

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About the Artist/Site

Known by his artist name Salvador, Gonzáles was born in 1948 in Camagüey, Cuba. Self-taught, he tells visitors that he began to create during Cuba’s “special period” of economic hardship that began with the fall of the Soviet Union; specifically, he began working on April 21, 1990, a date he has memorialized on the walls of the little street where he paints and constructs his installations, located in the very center of Havana, near the university.

Salvador is a follower of Santería, a syncretistic Cuban religion with its origins in sub-Saharan Africa and influenced by Catholicism. Its roots are found in the western African religions of the Yoruba and Benin tribes, from which came many slaves to the “New World.” Santería rests upon the cult of the god Obatala, who is reached through the intermediation of his emissaries, known as the Orishas; each of these Orishas incarnates a force of nature and a specific human character trait. Among the principal Orishas is Shango, the cult into which Salvador was initiated; Shango is the master of lightening, thunder, war, and drums. It is also the Orisha of justice, with colors of red and white. Another important Orisha is Yémaya, the universal mother who reigns over salt waters and who represents the black goddess of oceans and the seas and all that lives within them: she symbolizes life and, by extension, fertility and maternity. Her colors are blue and white.

Salvador’s sculptures and installations – created with recycled materials including bathtubs, motor scooters, and chairs – as well as his paintings, which extend throughout the neighborhood on the façades of neighboring buildings, often to a surprising height, are all inspired by Santería. As he has emphasized, “The [Cuban political] system never succeeded in changing people’s beliefs. Beads, fetishes, and icons are all hidden, of course, but the religion continues like an underground stream. Dogma hasn’t been able to modify this reality.”

In one part of a small street, a workshop dedicated to children has been inspired by the iconography of the Little Prince of Saint-Exupéry, which Salvador has painted upon recycled bathtubs. Here he has inscribed such texts as the dialogue between a child and his grandmother: “Grandmother, what is freedom?” “It is happiness.” “And what is happiness?” “It is peace.”

Salvador’s art is essentially inspired by surrealism, cubism, and abstraction, and is now rather well known, with exhibition of his works around the world.

On the Callejon de Hamel, this space metamorphosed by art and invested with joy and vibrancy by the residents of the neighborhood, one can, on Sunday afternoons, come to hear the drums and see the dancers dance their rumba rhythms in another of an incalculable number of homages to the Orishas of Santería.

~Hervé Couton

Translated by Jo Farb Hernández



Map and site information

Callejon de Hamel
La Habana, La Habana, Cuba
Latitude/Longitude: 23.138557 / -82.375875

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