Category: Student Blogs

El Museo de las Bellas Artes – Zeke Anders

The Museo de las Bellas Artes (Museum of the Fine Arts) in Old Havana not only contains an expansive collection of Cuban and foreign art, but also functions as a manifestation for the evolution of art as a result of political and economic dynamics. Each floor has a chronological progression, beginning with the colonial period of Cuban history. Early works from artists in the late 1800’s such as Federico Martinez took the form of intricately detailed portraits of white bourgeoisie; stylistically very similar to European art which reflected the colonial status of the island. After the second war of independence ended in 1898, the Cuban people broke away from the Spanish, and the art of the time changed drastically in kind. Rather than thoroughly realist portraits of upper class individuals, painters began to depict scenes that reflected the identity of the common people; such as the countryside, the forests, the farmers, and Jose Marti, the most well known intellectual and symbol of nationalism. During the Machadato in the 1930’s, a period marked by extreme political strife and public unrest, art mirrored the tension and frustration of the suffering public. Revolutionary and contemporary works brought a much darker and violent style, and expanded three dimensional arts beyond the traditional statues and busts to include sculptures and metal works. Broader political concepts, such as international relations and war, dominated, and continue to dominate, the Revolutionary period in the country, and there is a clear trend of using male imagery to convey machismo and war mongering. Additionally, an abundance of representations featuring Cuban heroes adorn the walls, such as Jose Marti, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Fidel Castro, and Camilo Cienfuegos. This can be attributed to the concerted efforts of the current government to enforce nationalism and instill pride in the people; for example, the “Be Like Che” campaign of the 1990’s. In summation, artistic expression and economic and political conditions are frequently bound together, and any study of Cuban art is inevitably a study of the political history of the country. The Museo de las Bellas Artes does a phenomenal job of presenting the artwork in such a way that it makes apparent the dynamic nature of its subject with respect to the many influences that it encompasses. As students of Cuban culture and history, the Museo de las Bellas Artes is an invaluable experience, and I for one learned a great deal in one visit, and plan on making another in the near future.

Trinidad – Jennifer Leisure

Known for their embroidery and soliciting, Trinidad sits between palm tree covered mountains and the teal Atlantic Ocean. High in a bell tower, my classmates and I looked over rows of red clay rooftops under pastel painted homes. “Museo del Romántico”, a preserved home of a Spaniard in the heart of the city, is a unique two-story home with a courtyard, brick oven, and balconies. Unlike Havana, where balconies are attached to almost every home and apartment, many buildings in this city serve to connect the public with barred doors and windows. In the town’s center, we glanced inside a few homes and were amazed by their elegant decorations and furniture. Away from the museums and souvenir shops, on narrow cobblestone roads, buildings with chipped paint, crumbled steps, and cracked doors became more common. All in all, Trinidad and the drive through beautiful rural Cuba were worth the long daytrip.

The Museum of the Revolution – Austin Bettis

In 1955, Cuba’s presidential palace was the site of a failed student-led assassination attempt on then president Fulgencio Bautista. Now, that same building is the location of El Museo de la Revolución (The Museum of the Revolution.) For one of our group excursions, we visited this museum and got to see up close some of the leftover traces of the revolt as well as learn a bit more about the Cuban revolution as a whole. The first thing that caught our eyes was the bullets holes in the marble walls from the fighting that took place on the first floor during the attack. We also got to see the secret stairway that Bautista used to escape to the roof and into a helicopter. I could almost picture the whole thing in my head: a group of university students storm the presidential palace with guns a blazing, government guards fire back trying to hold off the assault, and Bautista, hearing the commotion, sneaks away and makes a James Bond-like getaway before the action can reach the second floor. Then, the artifacts and stories behind them were interesting as well. We were able to get a better understanding of how Fidel came to be a hero in the people’s eyes by leading rebellions against the government as well as see some of the “tools” the government used to torture and kill the citizens caught participating in the insurgence. All in all, El Museo de la Revolución provided a very fascinating look back at a period of time exceedingly significant in the country’s history.

Bay of Pigs – Constance Attilio

The trip to the Bay of Pigs was truly an incredible experience. We were able to travel through the roads where the actual bombings and battles took place. The two museums we visited gave us an intense insight into the Cuban opinion of the entire historical event. Our tour guide, Raul, gave us a thorough explanation of the affair, really bringing the history into our excursion. We drove past numerous tombstones where bombings occurred and saw a billboard announcing where the invasion had been stopped. We were not only learning about the tragic event but were able to see the actual places.

Vi̱ales РDavid Salisbury

On Saturday January 13th our group took a trip to Viñales in the western-most province of Cuba, Pinar del Rio.  This was our first trip outside of Havana, so I had no idea what to expect. The nearly 2 hour trip by itself displayed a whole different, unique Cuban lifestyle.  Instead of seeing cars,buildings, and crowded streets, we saw horse-drawn carriages riding down the street alongside pigs, goats and many other animals.  The scenery of the western Cuba mountain ranges was one of the most gorgeous things I have seen and it gave off a rather peaceful vibe.  When we finally arrived at Viñales, climbing up the winding, spiraling mountain, the lushish green landscape was breathtaking.  Aside from the beautiful landscape, we visited runaway slave routes through the caves,Indian caves, and the area’s finest agricultural product: tobacco.  This first experience outside of the Havana area was not only necessary to grasp the entire Cuban experience, but also it portrayed a completely different, difficult lifestyle of Cuban people.

Cuban Family – Elaina Tirador

So far my experiences in Cuba have been amazing. My father is from Cuba, and I have had the opportunity to meet many of my family members. I never dreamed this day would come true where I would be able to meet my Cuban family. It hasbeen one of the happiest moments in my life. I have learned so much from them in just three visits. Family is something that is extremely important in the Cuban culture. Their way of living is simple and conservative, but that is not what is important. What is important is being with family. They all live in a compact neighborhood and if the neighbors are not family they still know who they are. They treat everyone as if they are family including my friends. We have had good times together. We have spent several hours playing dominoes together, but my favorite thing was learning to dance. They have taught me how to Salsa along with other Spanish dances. It was a true cultural experience.The day is always concluded with a huge feast with all the relatives. My family has taught me a lot about myself and my perspective on life. I look forward to many festive visits during my stay.  

First 3 weeks of classes- Susan Hubbell

Cuba is amazing! We started school last week and haven’t looked back since! We are so busy that the days just seem to fly by. Our classes are great and they are scheduled perfectly. We have one class on Monday and Fridays, two classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with a break on Thursdays. Mondays and Wednesdays are spent at the University of Havana, while classes on Tuesdays and Fridays are right across the street from the hotel in a nearby foundation/public library. All of our professors are wonderful, passionate people who are well educated on all types of subject matters. I find them wildly fascinating. At times they have very different opinions and views of the world than most Americans do and it is like a breath of fresh air. They love it when we ask questions and debate and argue and get into real discussions about things. This encourages and motivates us to read more and find out additional information so that we can have more informed viewpoints. Overall, every time we walk out of a classroom, our heads are spinning from all the new things and ideas we have been introduced to. I sure hope the weeks don’t fly by too quickly!

Impressions of Havana – Kyle Hughel

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect upon arrival in Havana. I knew the city was older than any in the United States and that it was the pleasure capital of the Caribbean for the first half of the Twentieth Century but that didn’t translate into a concrete vision of the modern city of almost three million people. As it turns out, Havana is similar to a large city in the United States: people get around via private automobiles, taxis, and public transportation; there are a number of large commercial buildings and shops with modern conveniences; and concerts and movies to attend for entertainment. On the other hand, a large percentage of the cars would be considered deathtraps in the US; stores may or may not be open or stocked on any given day; and a movie costs about the same as bus fare to and from the theater.

Having sprained my ankle a scant week before our departure, I was still using a cane to get around when we landed at Jose Martí International Airport; therefore, my first experience on Cuban soil was to have a friendly couple assist me down the stairs off of the airplane and into a seat on the crowded shuttle to the customs terminal. This initial impression of the friendly and helpful character of the Cuban population has held true for most of the denizens of Havana I’ve encountered; when asked for directions many Havana residents will offer to show the way if the destination is close by or give extremely detailed directions on which bus lines and stops to use.