Sunday, February 12, 2017

Election Day + 3: LOVE RALLY in the PARK

On Friday, November 11, 2016, Americans gathered in Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, for an event billed a "Love Rally in the Park."  It was organized on Facebook by a 19-year-old NYU student from Boston, Sydney Miller, and quickly gathered RSVPs from over 8,000 people.

Ms. Miller was careful to assure her followers that her intention was not to promote an anti-Trump demonstration.  Rather her purpose was to "spread positivity in Trump's America," and to reassure the many Americans who feel that "this country forgot them." 

She welcomed Trump voters, hoping they, too, would join to show support for "those who were targets of Donald Trump's hate speech," among these, "Muslims, women, those who have disabilities, Latinos/Latinas/Latinx people and everyone else."

Spread Love: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

Sea of Love: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

This place--Washington Square Arch--was an appropriate setting for an initial demonstration regarding a newly-elected president. The arch was erected between 1890-1892 on the designs of Stanford White. It replaced a wooden arch raised in 1889 (in the same place on the axis of 5th Avenue), and its purpose was that of honoring the centennial of the inauguration of George Washington as our first president

An inscription on its attic reads:  “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.”

These words were spoken by Washington at the Constitutional Convention of 1887, two years before his inauguration.  In the context of Trump's election, the sentence immediately preceding these words offers a warning still suitable today: "If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterward defend our work?"

Horsey Honey: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

I begin with these above three photographs because they picture children. They remind us that this event was intended to be a family affair--cheerful, peaceful, with no disturbances and no arrests. 

In the first photo, we see two young boys proudly displaying their own posters, non-political, abstract drawings that may not even relate to the rally's theme of "love."  In the second, we see a young girl climbing a lamppost in order to get a better view.  In the third, we see another young girl with the most perfect perch: her father's shoulders.

Nestled-In: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

Box Braids & Corkscrew Curls: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

Soul with Guitar: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

Patriarch & Veteran: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

Whether the participants were old, young, white, colored, these photographs, again, capture the festive mood of the day.

Nevertheless, people also made and carried signs to express their concern with Donald Trump's positions, their dismay at his behavior and their challenges to some of his ill-advised statements. The rest of my photographs focus and comment on some of these signs.

One might argue that, to the extent that these signs carry an implicit criticism of our newly-elected president, they are antithetical to the theme of a Love Rally; they are partisan, undeserving "slaps in the face" by a left-leaning crowd, merely licking its wounds. However, this argument is easily countered.  Just consider, for example, the mere title of one reference--the New York Times article by Jasmine C. Lee and Kevin Quealy of January 20, 2017, “The 305 People, Places and Things Donald Trump Has Insulted on Twitter: A Complete List.”

Someone who so gratuitously and so frequently denigrates everybody and everything around him has hardly earned--yea, has surely relinquished--the right to be given the people's benefit of the doubt.  Even prior to the election, over the 31 days of October, 2016, Donald Trump separately insulted fourteen people and three groups--a bit more than an insult every other day. 

Given his abnormal, disparaging behavior, Donald Trump can hardly complain about the following signs, all of which express and respond to truthful and serious issues.

Build Bridges: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

In June of 2015, on CNN's State of the Union, Donald Trump first began talking about building a wall across America's southern border with Mexico.  He claimed the Mexicans and other Latin Americans were "really bad....killers and rapists and they're coming into this country."  The wall will keep them out, and Trump will make Mexico pay for its construction--both utterly absurd statements. Trump still maintains his position on the wall, the result of which has been the alienation of an important American ally as well as its third largest trading partner.

Build Bridges Not Walls has become a common sign at rallies across the country. It signifies an enormous expense (the wall) which would accomplish nothing.  Meanwhile, actual bridge-building serves the real physical need of repairing our crumbling infrastructure; it also alludes to the metaphorical need of healing a citizenry which has been torn asunder by this nastiest of political campaigns. 

In both these aspects of bridge-building, Trump's plans (to the extent that they exist) will do more harm than good.  His infrastructure plan is really a tax-cut plan for the utility industry and for construction investors. It will add over $130 billion to the deficit while enriching individuals. Bridge building to heal the citizenry is all talk and no action. How can one possibly make amends after attacking Muslims, African-Americans, Asians, POWs, Women, Disabled Persons and Reporters, among many others, for nearly the past two years?

More Love: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

Here, mother and son call for love as a counter to discrimination and hate

The issue of discrimination has dogged Donald Trump from his earliest days. In both the early 1970s and in the early 1980s, his urban housing development corporations were being sued for discriminating against African Americans. More recently, his executive order on "religious freedom" has been attacked as an unconstitutional move to legalize discrimination and violate the First Amendment.

Hate, an even broader issue, has appeared almost daily, ever since Trump began his public run for the presidency. With impunity, so it seems, Donald Trump uses hateful language to attack both individual people (Khizr Khan, Judge Curiel, Alicia Machado, Megan Kelly, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton) and groups (Latinos, Blacks, Muslims, Undocumented Immigrants, POWs, Women, the Disabled).

Sadly, this hate is not restricted to the utterances of Donald Trump. Because of his position, he has become an influential role model. The result of this is a noted increase in racist and xenophobic harassment throughout the country. In fact, at least one physician has voiced concern about the health consequences of what he terms an Epidemiology of Hate.

I Stand for Love: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

This is really a sign heralding the social values in American culture, particularly those of compassion and empathy for others. These are not values that we have seen exhibited by Trump.  More often than not, our 45th President is more likely to exhibit and embrace the opposing values of cruelty and enmity.

Allow me to transcribe this sign and let it speak for itself. It reads:
I STAND FOR  People with Disabilities...Women...Muslims... LBGTQ Community...Black Lives Matter...Prisoners of War... Undocumented Immigrants...Mexicans...Sexual Assault Survivors...the Lower Class...Planned Parenthood...Asians... Hispanics...Health Care...Anyone who has ever felt alone...LOVE.

White Silence: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

The purple sign on our left reads: White Silence = Violence. Three simple words. Their meaning is obvious. To be silent before an observed wrong implies consent with that wrong. Not simply generic "violence," the wrong in our present American context is racism. The association of white silence with violence is an accepted tenet of black social activism, at least since Malcolm X and the early 1960s. 

ACLU lawyer, Corrine Fletcher uses the words in an article she wrote in July, 2016, for example. A month later, basketball star Isaiah Thomas was quoted on ESPN's First Take saying: “White silence is the equivalent to violence in these issues.” Furthermore, a group of white artists from Brooklyn, calling themselves Breaking White Silence, invite others to join their "artivist action" for racial healing.

Yet, even a century ago, we find powerful condemnations of silence in the presence of hateful behavior, as in the voice of the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Here is her opening line and the second stanza of the poem, Protest (1914):

To sin by silence, when we should protest makes cowards out of men.......
Therefore I do protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land. 
Call no chain strong, which holds one rusted link.
Call no land free, that holds one fettered slave. 
Until the manacled slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee, 
Until the mother bears no burden, save
The precious one beneath her heart, until 
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to labor, let no man 
Call this the land of freedom.

Wouldn't it be refreshing were her opening line heeded and taken to heart by our many, silent Republican lawmakers?

Russian Treason: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

Did Donald Trump commit treason? We may never know, at least not while he is president. After all, the presidency gives him command of the relevant investigative agencies, and he "will have the power to hinder or even outright squelch them."

The issue of treason has to do with Trump's tangled connections to Russia;  Russia's cyberattacks of the American Democratic Party;  the many comments Trump has made about these attacks (some encouraging them);  evidence of Trump's past dealings with Russia as well as his open praise for Vladimir Putin;  and the various connections to and dealings with Russia by people in the Trump camp (Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and Rex Tillerson).

To quote NSA legal counsel Susan Hennessey, "If there was any evidence that the Trump campaign actively colluded with Russia and committed crimes, that would be the most shocking political scandal in American history." 

Revolt: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

Donald Trump complained that signs calling for revoltlike this, were unfair, and he fabricated this transparent lie on Twitter about  demonstrations around the country:  "Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!"

History, fortunately, exposes Trump's hypocrisy.  Four years earlier, on November, 7, 2012, as Barack Obama won a second term, Donald Trump angrily tweeted that Americans should revolt and "march on Washington and stop this travesty... stop this great and disgusting injustice."

Now that the tide has turned, the Trump election has activated a large segment of the American electorate of the opposite political persuasion.  Calls for revolt appear not only on signs carried by demonstrators, but also on the internet. One such article, by Lizzie Crocker of mid-November, 2016, calls for what is termed "big organizing." Taking inspiration from the Sanders campaign, she introduces a participatory way to promote a revolutionary progressive agenda.  

Another approach, called Indivisible, was compiled by former Congressional staffers, and calls itself a "practical guide for resisting the Trump agenda."  Indivisible encourages continual, organized activism on the part of America's citizens. 

Coincidentally, Paul Krugman's most recent article, "When the Fire Comes," concludes by questioning the efficacy today of our system of checks and balances to stop further power grabs by the White House. "In the end," he writes, "I fear it's going to rest on the people--on whether enough Americans are willing to take a public stand."

A revolt may well be in the offing.

Rapist: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

This sign reads: I Will Not Call a Rapist Mr. President. These are strong words. They are not fabricated fictions, however.  They derive from actual lawsuits against Donald Trump. Whether in known and respected periodicals like Huffington Post or in newer, less well-known ones like Fusion, this troubling topic has been widely covered.

In the 1990s, Donald Trump's first wife, Ivana, used the word "rape" in a deposition, saying that he raped her in a fit of rage. In a 1997 lawsuit, Jill Harth, who had been working with Trump on a business deal, describes a scene at Mar-a-Lago in which he sexually attacked her in the bedroom of one of his children. Then, in a lawsuit filed eight months ago in New York State, a woman (Jane Doe) accused Trump of raping her in 1994, when she was just 13-years-old.

These are serious charges. Clearly, something untoward occurred in private between Donald Trump and women.  The New York Times published an article last May, "Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved with Women in Private." This article extended far beyond the women and incidents of these lawsuits. In summary, it noted how its "interviews reveal unwelcome advances, a shrewd reliance on ambition, and unsettling workplace conduct over decades."

All these incidents call to mind the common idiom, where there's smoke, there's fire. Or, to cite from an article titled "The Undeniable Rape Culture of Donald Trump" written by the American playwright and performance artist, Eve Ensler, "we know that rape culture is a contagion, that once given license and permission divides and subdivides and spreads..."

Pussy Grabs Back: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

Pussy Grabs Back quickly became a rallying cry when, in October, 2016, a video [3:06] from 2005 captures Donald Trump telling TV host, Billy Bush, how he seduces and kisses beautiful women without their consent.  "I don't even wait," Trump says, "When you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything."

Pussy Grabs Back has become a metaphor for most anti-Trump actions, whether it's Rihanna protesting in front of Trump Tower last month while wearing a "This Pussy Grabs Back" hoodie or the artist, Simone Giertz, who has fabricated a Pussy Grabs Back Machine as protection--see her hilarious video [6:12] of creating and testing her machine.

Nasty Woman: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

Another utterance by Donald Trump which has taken on a life and meaning of its own is Nasty Woman

In the final presidential debate of October 19, 2016, held at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Hillary Clinton is addressing the topic of Social Security when Donald Trump rudely interrupts her and says to the audience, "Such a nasty woman." 

Within minutes, women across the country were tweeting #IAmANastyWomanBecause, followed by whatever issue was important to them.  Huffington Post's Women's Editor, Emma Gray, called the phrase a "call for solidarity," one which embodied the many derogatory insults that women have been subjected to for most of their lives. 

Women turned an insult "into a brag."  One young woman, referring to Hillary Clinton, said, "If she's a nasty woman, I want to be a nasty woman, too." Soon, women began tattooing "nasty woman" on their bodies.

However, there is another meaning to this phrase, one emerging solely from Donald Trump's psyche. Because Hillary Clinton--a woman--has successfully stood up to him without wilting or backing down, he feels unfairly victimized. Victimized by this "nasty woman," who refuses to behave as a woman ought. "I am a victim," he told a North Carolina crowd on October 15. Because I feel ill-prepared to deal with the psychological complexity of this apparent martyrdom complex, I submit to you the fascinating article by the author, Ann Jones: "Donald Trump, the Greatest Victim in the History of the World."

Future Is Female: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

The Future Is Female, and its high time that Americans embraced and understood the potential healing power embodied in this statement.  Near the end of her concession speech of November 9, 2016, Hillary Clinton told "all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams." 

Twelve days later, Janet Bertolus wrote "An Open Letter to the First Female President of the United States" in which she stated:  "My wish is that you have the intellect of Hillary, the sass of Elizabeth Warren and the authenticity and oratory chops of Michelle Obama."  This would be my wish as well.  I know no man, Republican or Democrat, who comes close to possessing such skills (even one of them).

Then, at the 2017 Makers conference held last week, Hillary directly quoted the words of this sign, saying:  "Despite all the challenges we face, I remain convinced that yes, the future is female."

Several groups promote the idea of more women in politics. Emily's List may be among the best known, with its focus on pro-choice Democratic women.  Less well-known, although almost a decade old, is She Should Run, a non-partisan organization which promotes women and girls of all backgrounds.  As its co-founder, Erin Cutraro said, "If we want to have an effective country, we’re not gonna get there unless women’s voices are at the table."

Consider just this one statistic, as cited by Andrea Drew Steele of Emerge America:  "On the Republican side, out of all of their party leadership and committee chairs, there is only one woman. She chairs House Administration, which is basically the secretarial committee." 

No wonder Republican Congresses have governed so badly, and will perform no better now even though the GOP controls both houses. They must elect more women, because women are much more effective at advancing legislation, regardless of political party.

Immigrant Families: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

Bigoted, anti-immigration rhetoric helped Donald Trump rise above his fellow Republicans during his campaign for the presidency. Since his Inauguration, he has issued three Executive Orders against immigrants and refugees. These ill-considered Orders were characterized by Vox staff writer, Dara Lind, as "a 9/11-style crisis reaction — without a 9/11."

Trump's Executive Orders on immigration have adversely effected almost everyone, from scientists, to the high-tech industry of Silicon Valley and its reliance on the H-1B visa program, to low-wage workers and our entire farming system. If, in this latter case, undocumented workers were removed from farm work, the United States would suffer a $30-60 billion loss in food production.

The reality behind immigration is that immigrants earn more than native born Americans, they study further, they stay employed more and they tend to avoid poverty more. This has to do with what author Anand Giridharadas terms "The Immigrant Advantage;" this advantage stems from an "ability to straddle the seemingly contradictory values of their birthplaces and their adopted land, to balance individualism with community-mindedness and self-reliance with usage of the system."

Among their many benefits to our country, immigrants will contribute a net of $611 billion to our Social Security System over the next 75 years, so buoying to the solvency of this great system. Moreover, were America to legalize its undocumented immigrant population, it would add $1.5 trillion to the country's GDP.

In other words, "Immigrants Make America Great" [Rex Nutting]; "America Is Still Great, and Immigration Is Still Why" [Lawrence Downes].

Immigrant Wives: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

This is not quite accurate; or, to put it differently, it's only 2/3 true. I'll refrain from any further comment.

Youth Against Fascism: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

I'm not aware of a political group calling itself, Youth Against Fascism. However, one of the tunes from the 1992 album, Dirty, by Sonic Youth was given this title.  If you wish, listen to it here on YouTube [3:38].

Refuse a Fascist America: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

The word, "fascist," is often tossed about much too loosely. Most of us have misused it ourselves or know others who have.  Even Neil Gorsuch, Trump's nominee for Supreme Court Justice, once created a Fascism Forever Club, albeit as a teenager in preparatory school.

The historian and scholarly writer on the topic of fascism, Robert O. Paxton, said "I’m very, very reluctant to use the word fascism loosely, because it’s almost the most powerful epithet you can use. I guess child molester might be a little more powerful but not much." Having said this during an interview of last year, he went on to enumerate certain themes that Trump's campaign shared with classic fascism: the use of ethnic stereotyping, the exploitation of a fear of foreigners, the idea of making a country great again, the enlistment of the working class against intellectuals, professionals and the left.

But as Robert Kagan wrote two months later in a piece for the Washington Post, a main connection between Trump and fascism is "attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence." 

In the conclusion of this article, Kagan states: "This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac 'tapping into' popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him."

For those not yet prepared to accept this word as a descriptor for Donald Trump's actions, David Frum offers a more acceptable substitute in his important and most recent article for The Atlantic, "How to Build an Autocracy."

Not My President: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

Not My President signs have proliferated throughout the United States to a much broader degree than after any previous election. A Facebook group calling itself Donald Trump Is not My President has sprung up.  In Portland, Oregon, chefs and bartenders will host a fundraiser called "Not My President's Day" in support of Planned Parenthood.  Meanwhile, across the entire country, President's Day--February 20--will be celebrated as (Not My) President's Day.

The main impulse behind this wholesale rejection of Donald Trump as president is best summed up in two examples.  In one, people are saying "'Trump is not my president' because I am not racist, sexist, xenophobic, etc."   In the other, people are saying "Mr. Trump has no intention of representing me, my family, the people I care about, or the majority of Americans, from the imperiled to the comfortable."

Everyone Is Welcome: Love Rally in the Park, Washington Square Park, New York City, 11/11/2016

In the end, this Love March in the Park was a joyous affair and, as a reporter for the Gothamist wrote, "there was little tension and no arrests." This photograph perfectly captures its spirit. Everyone Is Welcome, and America still is "A Country for Everyone."

Friday, January 13, 2017

CUBA: Callejón de Hamel. The Art of Salvador

Not far from the northwestern edge of Centro Habana lies a narrow alley, its boundaries defined by Calle Espada on the west and Calle Hospital on the east. 

This alley, maybe 200-yards in length, is named the Callejón de Hamel.  According to one source, its namesake was a French-German named Fernando Hamel, "a smuggler who ran weapons during the American Civil War" before settling in this section of Havana.

This particular section of Havana is known as Barrio Cayo Hueso. Not to be confused with Florida's Key West, also referred to by Cubans as Cayo Hueso, "Barrio Cayo Hueso" stands for Cay of Bones.  That is because this early 20th-century settlement of tenements was built on top of the Espada Cemetery, which was closed and abandoned in 1878.

Bario Cayo Hueso, and the Callejón de Hamel in particular, first gained recognition in the 1940s-1950s as the center for a genre of Cuban song known as Filin.  During this period, the musical founders of filin would meet in the house of the musician Tirso Diaz, located in the Callejón

As interest in filin waned after the Cuban Revolution, the Callejón fell off Havana's cultural map. But in 1990, the artist Salvador Gonzáles Escalona arrived there to paint a mural on a friend's house.  He stayed; he still lives there; and he ended up transforming the entire length of the Callejón into a unique example of urban installation art. 

As Wikipedia notes, "the street was transformed from a slum area to an enthusiastic Afro-Cuban centre."  It could be argued that the Callejón de Hamel offers a rare example of how a decrepit urban area can be transformed into a vital artistic and social center not by the "normal" infusion of governmental, corporate, or individual wealth, but through the vision and dedication of an individual of meager economic means (supported by the encouragement of his neighbors).

The following photographs document the Callejón, starting from its two access points on the east and the west, then proceeding into its center. 

Because I have no background in Afro-Cuban art and iconography, nor did I have the fortune to meet Salvador, I cannot identify the paintings and sculptures either by title or subject. Where the murals contain text, however, I provide translations (with the help of my friend, Peter Lamphere), and I will, occasionally, offer some general artistic observations on a particular work of art. 

Otherwise, Salvador's work effectively speaks for itself.

Images from the Eastern Entry:

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Mural at east entrance off Calle Hospital, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, View into east entrance off Calle Hospital, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, View of east entrance toward Calle Hospital, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Detail of north wall, east entrance, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Detail of north wall, east entrance, Centro Habana

This eastern entrance, visible in three of the five above photographs, assumes the form of a three-arched gateway or propylaea. It is made of crude, uncoursed masonry (which may well be stone rescued from collapsed buildings of the neighborhood).

The third and fourth photographs above show one of Salvador's ubiquitous pieces of functional sculpture:  discarded steel bathtubs cut down to make benches for the inhabitants and visitors.

writing on the right:
Soy así Porque no le prendo una vela a Dios y luego otra al Diablo pero se la prendo al tiempo    Salvador  21-04-90
I am like this Because I do not light a candle to God and then another to the Devil   I light one to time    Salvador  21-04-90

El cobarde le huye a la verdad porque la mentira es como el.
The coward runs away from the truth because the lie is like him.

writing on the left:
Cuando quieta la pisada del andar constante fuertemente apretarás tu vida y en lágrimas manchadas tus ojos quedarán secos por el crepitar de tus soles incomprendidos. Será tu canto piedras callecidas, Que polvo y tierra tragaran desnudas para florecer un dia, nadie sabe como, ea un manantial de luciernagas blancas y alli en el replejo de agua, estará tu rostro quemado de tiempo, plagado de furia sin contestar diras ‘Vida’ para ser devuelto a la tierra.
When the footsteps of constant walking are still, your life will strongly tighten and in stained tears your eyes will stay dry by the crackle of your suns.
It will be your song of calloused stones, that dust and earth will nakedly swallow to bloom one day, no one knows how, into a fountain of white fireflies and there, in the water’s reflection, will be your face burned by time, plagued by fury with no answer,  you will say 'alive' to be returned to the earth.

Pero no moriras
But you won’t die

El que teje una mentira   puede ser herido por su propia agujeta. Salvador
He who weaves a lie   can be hurt by his own needle.   Salvador

El camino de Hombre es un camino largo, duro y difícil a veces se muere Varon sin Vegar nunca a ser Hombre
The road of Man is a long road, hard and difficult; sometimes a youth dies without ever becoming a man

Images from the Western Entry:

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Approach from west at Calle Espada, north wall,  Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Western edge, north wall,  Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Western edge, Detail of north wall,  Centro Habana

Puedo esperar más que tu, porque soy el tiempo  Salvador  26 10 95
I expect more than you, because I am time   Salvador 10 26 1995

No formal, architectural statement marks the entrance from the west. But starting at the intersection with Calle Espada, this bold mural of over forty feet introduces the Callejón and makes it clear that we are entering a special place. 

Venture a bit further east (beyond the door pictured directly above) and there is no denying that one has entered a space completely different from any other street (or place) in Havana.

You are now in Salvador's world--a world inspired by the various cultures of Africa which came over with the slave trade, Catholicism inherited from the Spanish, and modernism inspired by some of the major artistic movements of the 20th-century.

Images from the Interior of the Callejón:

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, General View to East,  Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Detail of Bench and Section of North Wall, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Benches and Section of North Wall, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Benches and Section of North Wall, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Benches and Section of North Wall, Centro Habana

The three photographs directly above show the range of Salvador's material and media. 

Mosaics on the ground clarify the distinction between the bare alley--urban passageway--and the tessellated sections, often also set off by more bathtub benches--outdoor living rooms, spaces for people to congregate.

Painted Murals of dynamic, asymmetric, abstracted forms cover the boundary walls. Be aware that this is whatever paint the artist could find--house paint, automobile paint, definitely not cans of spray paint. This is Cuba under embargo, not America. As Salvador  recalls, "People came up to me and said, 'Maestro, I have a little bit of red paint,' or yellow, or a little printing dye. I wound up painting with whatever materials turned up."

Totemic Sculptures decorate these gathering spaces, made from found objects such as cast-iron columns, steel gears and wheels, industrial stampings and extruded structural braces.

This is not an art installation to merely walk through and admire. It demands that one engage with it, sit on it, read it, maybe even sleep in it.  Megan Daigle, in her book From Cuba with Love, has quoted Salvador as stating:  "the Callejón de Hamel is a heavy load of poetic images and sculpture that you have to live through."

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Centro Habana

These three photographs document a section that I would call an open-air chapel to the Cuban poet, philosopher and hero, José Martí.  A bust of Martí and a passage from his Versos Sencillos occupies the center of this space. For more on this, see my blog post from May of 2016: "Cuba II: José Martí." 

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, View East, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, View North to Background Buildings, Centro Habana

I would argue that Salvador considered the Callejón de Hamel as a total work of art, one which would unite all the various arts into an expansive cultural synthesis.

We already have seen how he combined sculpture, painted murals, and floor mosaics to create spaces in which the viewer or participant would enter. The two photographs above reveal another aspect of this idea of an overarching artistic unity, in that they focus not on the low walls which border and define the alley, but on the walls of the buildings to the north and beyond the alley.

Salvador expanded his work beyond the alley to transform the more distant buildings into a participatory background.

A third aspect of the idea of the Callejón as a total work of art is the fact that is has become a major performance space, not only for the local community but for Havana itself. I will elaborate on this a bit further down.

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Bathtub Bench, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, South Wall, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, South Wall, Centro Habana

Bathtubs, left whole, become wall niches for sculptures and more writings. They are like minor shrines. Picking up on what Salvador, himself, has stated, one source has called the Callejón  "a public temple to Santería and African influences in Cuban culture."

I will elaborate on this as well a bit further down.

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Column, Mural, Bench, Bathtub, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, View East with Cash Register & Bench, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Cricket, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Male Mannequin, Vase & Profile Face, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Woman in Profile with Headdress, Centro Habana

This is a wonderful piece of sculpture. I would love to know its title, if Salvador gave it one (and I suspect that he did). Most likely it is an Orisha, a Yoruba word originally that refers to a form of spirit connected to a supreme diety. Also, ori, the root of the word, refers to the head, which is what we see here in a profile silhouette. Besides the piece's likely reference to African culture, its profile silhouette was a device often used in the synthetic cubist works of Picasso and Braque.

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Herbero de Hamel, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Bench, Sculptures & Door, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Doorways and Mural, Centro Habana

Si no sabes no te meta
If you do not know, don’t get involved

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Mural and Entry, Centro Habana

Quiero mutilarte sombra negra de lo desconocido   Quiero reir en tus garras de azul intenso de lejana agonía    Quiero sentarme en tu sombra y seguir camino    Quiero describite en espacios para que te conozcan eres paso inerte de lejano tiempo traes luz y canto llaman Mas no puedo describirte como mi mano escapas como agua entre pequeñas piedras    Quiero mutilarte de sonrisas/ Cual es tu frente lejano enigma?    Cual es to espalda que sonrie inerte?    Se que regresaras cada noche cada mañana    Quiero que sepas que estoy esperándote    En tu lejana sombra colores raros    Eternamente briuara tu espada         Salvador
I want to mutilate you, black shadow of the unknown     

I want to laugh in your claws of blue intensity, of distant agony    
I want to feel myself in your shadow and continue walking    
I want to describe you in spaces so that you know you are an inert step of distant time,  you bring light and I sing the call    
I cannot describe you anymore as my hand,  you escape like water between small rocks    
I want to mutilate you with smiles 
Which is your front side, distant enigma?    
Which is your back, that smiles, inert?  
I know that you return every night and every morning    
I want you to know I am waiting for you    
In your distant shadow, strange colors    
Forever, you will offer your sword           Salvador

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Studio (?) of Salvador, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Mural with Virgin & Cuban Flag, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Murals on North Wall, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Mural with Virgin & Cuban Flag, Centro Habana

The street-level murals seen in these three photographs most likely embody some syncretic amalgam of Afro-Cuban deities. Without titles or more explanatory information from Salvador, it may be simplest to claim they (and the bulk of the Callejón's art) is an artistic expression of Santería, in which Yoruba mythology (from Nigeria) mixes with Christianity and certain indigenous American traditions and beliefs.

Apparently, Salvador even went through the Changó initiation and so is a Santería priest.  He calls the Callejón a "bastion of Afro-Cuban culture," the goal of which is didactic--to teach and preserve the legacy of black Africa on Cuba.

Quite different in nature is the long, horizontal mural above, just underneath the balcony. It depicts a rough sea on which floats what appears to be a statue of an enthroned Madonna holding the Christ Child. On the right we see the only other object other than sea, horizon, statue of the Virgin--a Cuban flag.

This must be a painting of the Patron Saint of Cuba, the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre.  She, too, is a syncretic figure, associated with the Yoruba and Ifá orisha, Ochún. As with other early Marian images, she was likely brought to Cuba by a Spanish sea captain (ca. 1612) to serve as a guide and protector.

As the story goes, this particular statue of the enthroned Mary, holding Jesus and a golden cross, was discovered by three workers at the slaughter house in Santiago del Prado.  A violent storm in the Bay of Nipe nearly drowned them, were it not for the slave named Juan, who wore a medal picturing the Virgin Mary. The three workers prayed to Her medal, the storm cleared in an instant, and they saw the statue floating in the distance. The board to which She was fastened bore the inscription, "Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad."

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Mural, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Murals, Centro Habana

Elias Aseff Alfonso identifies the mural on the right with the red background as inspired by Ochún. So here we have a very different representation of that same, syncretic goddess: now, the Santería version of Cuba's patroness.  In this much more dramatic mural, she reveals her aspects as goddess of love, water, sexual fertility and sensuality.

Peña cultural Afrocubana.   La rumba de Cayo Hueso.   Callejon de Hamel.   C. H. Cuba.   Domingos 12 pm
Afro-Cuban cultural hub.  The rumba of Key West.   Alley of Hamel.   C. H. Cuba.   Sundays 12 pm

As the above writing informs us, every Sunday starting at noon, people gather and several rumba bands play.  The bands set up directly in front of this mural, and so Ochún holds court over the performance stage.

Thus, in this spot is where we can best comprehend that third aspect of the idea of the Callejón as a total work of art.  Music has returned to the Callejón;  it complements the visual art;  and, as Rumba, it now reaches back to its early, African roots. 

Besides Rumba, the Callejón lures in other Cuban musicians on Fridays and it also has become a center where Cuban children attend painting workshops.  So the Callejón has played a role in reviving the Afrocubanismo movement of the 1920s-1930s, a broad cultural movement that sought to instill pride in the Africa and black culture of Cuba.

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Bench, Kiosk and Mural, Centro Habana

Pá que tu me llama si tu no me conoce
So that you call me if you do not know me

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Mural on South Wall, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Mural on South Wall, La Vida...La Muerte, Centro Habana

La vida es un paso     La muerte es una carrera
Life is a step     Death is a race

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Pipe Sculpture and Mural, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Text Mural, Al Maestro don Fernando, Centro Habana

Al maestro Don Fernando Ortiz; al barrio de Cayo Hueso; al Pueblo de Cuba; nace en este gallejón de Centro Habana nombrado Hamel el 21 de abril de 1990, el primer mural en la vía pública dédicada a la cultura aprocubana. Iremes, Orishas, leyendas de dioses negros. En la gran maleza de la selva y el monte para decir hoy dia. Tengo por el arte mi primer templo público para todos. Donde la sencillarama cubrió el desnudo cuerpo, para alejar el mal que sufre. Para llenar de colores aquellas paredes mudas y desnudas de esperar tanto. Y con mi tiempo que es mio como del tuyo eres dueño, darle por el sentimiento de ser...para ser huella de lo conocido. Sin pragmentos de palabras Cantos de mis tambores Cantos de mis ropas blancas sin ser oración soy palabra por palabra soy quien pinta paredes y mando mensajes al alba. Perdonadme críticos e intelectos, yo digo mi palabra siento en la silla al mendigo, abrazo la sonrisa franca, me gusto el, zumo de mi sangre, que es sangre africana pero tambien respiro profundo para llenar mi vida y mi alma de un sonrisa espannola, que _arió sangre mulata. Espiritus del dia y la noche consagrada, estén todos presentes para mandar mis mensajes al alba.
El cobarde le huye a la verdad, porque la mentira es como el. Salvador

To the teacher Don Fernando Ortiz; To the neighborhood of Key West; To the People of Cuba.
Born in this alley of Centro Habana named Hamel the 21 of April of 1990, is this first mural of the public street dedicated to the Afro-Cuban culture.
Iremes, Orishas, ​​legends of black gods. In the great undergrowth of the jungle and the mountain to say now.
This art is my first public temple, for all people.
Where the simple branch covered the naked body, to ward off the evil it suffered.
To fill with color those silent and naked walls.
And with my time that is mine, like you are the owner of yours, I offer the feeling of being... to be marked as known.

Without fragments of words.  Songs of my drums.  Songs of my white clothes without being prayer.  I am word for word.  I am he who paints walls and sends messages at dawn.
Forgive me critics and intellects, I say my word.  I sit in my chair as a beggar,   embracing the honest smile, I like the juice of my blood, which is African blood, but I also breathe deep to fill my life and my soul with a Spanish smile, which made my blood mulatto.
Spirits of the day and the consecrated night, be present to send my messages at dawn.
The coward runs away from the truth, for the lie is like him. 

In this writing, Salvador dedicates his work to Fernando Ortiz Fernández, a Cuban anthropologist, ethnomusicologist and scholar of Afro-Cuban culture who died in 1969.

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Wall of Murals & Text, Centro Habana

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Wall of Murals & Text, Centro Habana

La envidia es la peor de todas las brujerías.
Jealousy is the worst of all witchcraft.

Y vinieron con cantos que nadie conocía    cruzaron el mar en peces de madera    Trajeron un secreto cubierto de sangre y tierra cantaron,  lloraron,  plantaron: 1834
And they came with songs that nobody knew    crossed the sea in wooden fish    carried a secret covered in blood and earth   they sang,  they wept,  they planted: 1834

The date referred to in the second writing, 1834, is the year that most scholars cite for the emergence of Abakuá in Cuba. This was a secret, religious-based mutual aid society restricted to men.  It derived from the leopard societies of southeastern Nigeria and it contributed to the music of rumba.

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Wall of Murals & Text, Centro Habana

La religión es tan antigua como el arte y el arte tan antiguo como el Hombre.
Religion is as old as art  and art is as old as Man.

Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, Callejón de Hamel, Wall of Murals & Text, Centro Habana

El pez no sabe que existe el agua.
The fish does not know that there is water

Todo pueblo que se niegue a si mismo esta en trance de suicidio. Dr. Fernando Ortiz
People who reject themselves are on the verge of suicide. 

Dr. Fernando Ortiz

Si Malo es regalarse, peor es venderse, mucho menos prestarse, es mejor tenerse.
If giving yourself away is bad,  selling is worse,  and lending yourself is much worse.  It is better to have yourself.

Dueño de este lugar es la humanidad   Su creador simplemente se llama     Salvador
This place belongs to Humanity   It’s creator is simply called Salvador

writing directly above but only partially visible here:

En la puerta de manto escribi tu nombre, tan lejano como la Historia lejana, tierra, piedra, fuego y agua. Aquí está la prenda, para que aprendas porque profano es quien oculta la verdadera palabra.
On the mantle’s door I wrote your name, as far back as the distant History,  earth,  stone,  fire and water. Here is the pledge, so you learn    profane is he who hides the true word.

writing to the left but only partially visible here:

Despues de muerto no quiero ni disculpas ni regalos.
After death I do not want any apologies or gifts.

Vengo de una realidad oculta a una realidad abierta para que me conozcas.
I come from a hidden reality to an open reality so that you know me.

I end this post with two brief quotations from Salvador, each of which reveals the importance he places on this narrow alley both for Afro-Cuban culture and for himself as an artist:

The Callejón, he says, "is the result of a conversation with the orishas over a period of many years. This is the place where Obbatalá finally lands after flying and flying and flying."

"The only mural I’ve painted and want to preserve is the one at Callejon de Hamel."