FIART: Cuba's best crafts fair  
by Victoria Alcalá
 
 
FIART is an annual arts & crafts fair generally held in PABEXPO. Last year, there were over 386 stands featuring products from Peru, Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador as well as a huge range of products from every corner of Cuba, including the “Cubanization” of Tiffany decorative glass and metal objects. This is a great place to shop for Christmas presents if you live in Cuba and if you don’t go and browse around.

Victoria Alcalá writes about Cuban culture. She has won several prestigious writing awards.
 
 

It is practically impossible in a single day to stop at each of the 386 stands at the International Crafts Fair FIART 2011. However, those of us who attend this celebration of arts and crafts year after year can find our way around the many offers with certain ease.

In some cases the eagerness to sell has prevailed over the artistic nature of the handicrafts (articles of ostensible industrial manufacture that have nothing to do with art seem to grow from year to year) and the number of potential buyers and wares clustered in small spaces not only make it difficult to view the articles on exhibition, but also to converse with the artisans, which should be one of the attractions in events like this one. Therefore, I would recommend taking a perfunctory glance at the stands that are crammed with cheap costume jewelry (usually of questionable taste and which can be bought elsewhere in Havana) and devote more time to innovative and high-quality handicrafts, which, fortunately, can be found at FIART.

Countries such as Peru, Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador exhibit a wide range of multicolored scarves, bags, hammocks, tapestries, ponchos, hats and blankets, all made of natural fabrics, fibers and dyes, in addition to their traditional ceramic works. The Oré family from Peru stand out for their sensitive Christmas-themed ceramics, which combine the sensitivity and techniques inherited from the peoples that inhabited that region and who already had a long tradition in pottery-making long before the arrival of Europeans to America. Their Nativities, with llamas in place of camels and biblical characters with Indian features, have been quite successful. One I especially liked was a miniature Nativity inserted within a potato, also made of clay.

Among the Cuban exhibitors, it is virtually impossible to pass by Puyalena’s stand without stopping to admire his beautiful majolica tableware, with prices a little bit above average, but absolutely justified thanks to the exquisite finish of the pottery. Meanwhile, the latest additions to Felipe and Manolo Fontes’s well-known minimalist glazed ceramic spheres include playing cards, dice, balls, dominoes, all of which have been made with a great economy of expressive resources and are perfect for decorating a corner in the home. Those who prefer bright colors should check out the collection of young artisan Islay Correoso, who has something for all tastes, from the traditional designs of stained glass lampshades, including a “Cubanization” of Tiffany decorative glass and metal objects, to the delightful slugs that are surprisingly graceful and beautiful.

As for clothing, much attention has been attracted by ​​Nancy Pelegrín’s idea of turning her stand into an extension of her workshop, with tables and sewing machines, affording the prospective buyer the unique opportunity to order a custom-made garment and actually have a hand in its confection. For my part, I am still dazzled by the splendid needlework of the accomplished embroiderers and knitters from the city of Trinidad in Central Cuba, as well as the conventional clothes in linen or cotton with fine pleats by Confecciones Quitrín based in Old Havana. Meanwhile, designers Mario Freixas and Jacqueline Fumero manage to insert international fashion trends into Cuban traditional dress. Another good idea has been to dedicate a space to plus-size clothing with nice suggestions for those with a few pounds too many.

The stands that exhibit furniture and footwear are among the most frequented. Unfortunately, this year there wasn’t much to offer in terms of novel footwear, which was more focused on copying industrial models than to unleash the imagination. Having said that, one can still find cool and comfortable real leather shoes and sandals that are suitable for taking long walks in the city, with an acceptable value for money. A great number of furniture endlessly repeat the traditional Cuban country chairs made of wood and hide, or the wood and wickerwork design scheme in rocking chairs, or replicas of Art Nouveau furniture made of Cuban fibers, in which plant and flower motifs predominate. Therefore I was thankful for the modernity of Fernando Velázquez’s furniture, beautifully finished with ceramic; Blondin’s synthetic and bold pieces; the ones made by Paco and Anette; and the pieces of furniture whose designs are based on works by Nelson Dominguez and which are exhibited at the artist’s stand.

After an exhausting tour, I left PABEXPO with a sweet glazed earthenware coffee set in pink and yellow, a colorful scarf made in Guatemala and a miniature Peruvian-made armadillo, and hoping to return this weekend when there is sure to be some price reductions. A recommendation to the ladies: if you want to see it all and take your time about it, leave your men at home!

FIART 2011 is open from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm until Sunday, December 18, 2011, at the PABEXPO exhibition centre in Havana.
FIART, (December)
December 2011
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