Cuban Design and Private Initiative
November 19, 2013
HAVANA TIMES— “Cuban design ? difficulties” is a simple and useful
formula that could well be used to summarize the situation of this
practice on the island.
The promotional and support strategies which the Cuban revolution
developed in many cultural sectors (such as popular music, ballet and
others) were scant in connection with the design arts, something rather
surprising when we recall how intensively propaganda posters were used
to convey political proclamations to the people in the early 60s and the
many movie posters produced to present the “new Cuba” to the world.
There are perhaps only two important moments in Cuban history where we
catch sight of an effort to make the cultural policies of the State
coincide with the development of a design movement: the creation of the
Empresa de Producciones Variadas (“Artistic Production Center”, EMPROVA)
in 1974 and the founding of the Instituto Superior de Diseño (“Higher
Institute for Design”, ISDI) in 1984.
Five decades of indifference and misunderstandings within the field has
resulted in a lack of communication among designers, the absence of
historical records on Cuban design practices, a lack of journals and
catalogues aimed at the study or promotion of the art, a shortage of
designers working within the industry, an industry that isn’t even
capable of achieving the quality of the products manufactured in the
30s, 40s or 50s and a world of designers who find it extremely difficult
to join official institutions in the field.
The situation of Cuban design, be it graphic or industrial, is an
unavoidable issue today, when the country’s new economic reforms have
resulted in a Havana that has been re-conquered by the advertisements of
fledgling private businesses.
The venue of Laboratorio de ideas sobre el diseño (“Ideas About Design
Laboratory”), Havana’s Factoria Habana art gallery is perhaps one of the
key spaces where the issue is being debated today, through talks and
conferences aimed at describing current practices in the field and the
material and aesthetic solutions to different challenges being deployed
in Cuba at the moment.
At these gatherings, the Piscolabis team, made up by social
communication expert Claudia Angurel and architect Maria Victoria
Benito, touches on the role that design strategies play in the
development of private initiatives today.
Bazar Cafe Piscolabis
It was precisely the use of such strategies, in the design of both
spaces and products that secured the success of Bazar-Cafe Piscolabis,
an establishment opened by the duo which has recovered its initial
investment in only a year.
Piscolabis is an oasis of modern design enclaved in a wasteland of
chipped walls, fading facades and balconies propped up with improvised,
The commercial aggressiveness of its owners has allowed them to avail
itself of an experimental strategy aimed at new businesses promoted by
Havana’s Office of the City Historian.
To date, the Office of the City Historian has rented out a mere 8
locales destined to ornamental plant stores, restaurants, hairdresser’s
and other establishments.
These locales, which had either been shut down or which were being
underused, are located in Old Havana, Havana’s main tourist area. A
stone’s throw from the Cathedral, on San Ignacio street, Piscolabis
enjoys a privileged location within the old town.
The bazar-café exhibits and sells Cuban-made crafts, mainly lamps,
jewlery and textile products. The more noteworthy of the latter are
cushions decorated with the motifs of traditional Havana mosaics.
The shop – which, according to the owners, seeks to rescue the aesthetic
values of pre-1959 Cuba – has fashioned an identity for itself through
the clever use of colors, textures and distinctive materials, a world of
ochre tonalities, recycled bottles, texturized tracing paper and mixed
As an artistic project, it aims at becoming an aesthetic alternative to
the products imported by the State to stock the country’s hard-currency
stores and to traditional crafts, dominated by multicolored percussion
sticks and maracas.
Piscolabis boasts of a rather sui generis design which nonetheless
insists on calling itself “Cuban.”
Source: “Cuban Design and Private Initiative – Havana Times.org” –