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Callejón de Hamel
Callejón de Hamel, is a small street located in the municipality of Centro Habana The barely 200-meter long alley first rose to fame during the 1940s and 50s when a group of singers and composers, such as José Antonio Méndez, Rosendo Ruiz, Ñico Rojas, Frank Domínguez, Aida Diestro and Elena Burke, would meet at Ángel Díaz’s home at Callejón de Hamel. This group became the founding members of filin (a loose translation of “feeling”), one of the most singular and renovating movements in Cuban song, which introduced novel harmonies from jazz into Cuban bolero.
When almost a half century later, in 1990, the painter Salvador González Escalona chose to turn the street where he lived into a huge outdoor gallery, many realized that Callejón de Hamel had been the chosen one to be forever inscribed in the city’s cultural dynamics.
Salvador González Escalona
Salvador González was born in the city of Camagüey in 1948. A self-taught artist, from the very beginning, his creative career has been deeply associated with popular culture, which he has studied in detail. Although his reputation and maturity as an artist came about through the Callejón de Hamel project, his work from 1968 to 1990 cannot be overlooked. Starting out with his first exhibition on Cuban popular art held at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Havana in 1968, we can follow Salvador’s itinerary until we arrive at Hamel in 1990. During those 22 years, he exhibited in different galleries, such as the Student Art Gallery of the University of Havana, the Cuban Fund of Cultural Property, and Casa de Africa. The latter exhibition was especially significant in that it reaffirmed his passion and commitment to working with Afro-Cuban codes viewed primarily from the perspective of syncretism interacting with different environments. That same year, he exhibited a collection of paintings which he named Yoruba Poem at the Habana Libre Hotel. From 1987 to 1989, he performed several artistic rituals, including Offering to Yemayá, goddess of the seas, on the shores of the town of Jaimanitas.
During the second half of the 1980’s, Salvador González established a fertile connection with the cultural and religious life of other Caribbean nations, absorbing the wide range of colors and rhythms from those countries, in which mysticism that almost always comes from the seas is predominant.
In 1989, Salvador found the ideal way of expressing his creative energy—mural painting. His murals are never simple, mimetic or boring representations. Through their captivating complexity, they tell stories about dispersed peoples whose culture and religious patterns are nevertheless alive and influential; about the African nations who in mixing their genes with ours have allowed us to enter into a kingdom of abundant sensuality. In 1990, under this art style, he produced his first set of murals inspired in Afro-Cuban culture at Callejón de Hamel.
As of 1991, his murals traveled outside Cuba and, surprisingly, were able to communicate with peoples of other regions. In that same year he painted a mural called The Son of the Sun on the facade of the Caracas Hilton Hotel in Venezuela. In 1992, he painted a mural in Norway, and in 1993 and 1994, two murals in Mexico. In 1995 he traveled to Copenhagen where he painted a mural called Mother Water, in which he extolled the figure of Yemayá. His murals have also been present in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Italy.
His way of depicting the African theme comes not only from the spontaneity that over time he acquired from popular culture; all that torrent of imagery that he offers is also the result of extensive research that focuses on what originally and instinctively was present in African culture, which is the concept of cubism, abstraction and surrealism. This is perhaps why we can perceive a mysterious presence of those styles in his paintings.
Sculpture is another field in which Salvador has given free rein to all of his Afro-Cuban inspirations and their link to the everyday reality of the neighborhood where he lives and creates. Two of his most outstanding sculptures are “La gangá y la llave” (1994), exhibited at the Artists Center in Randers, Denmark, and “Cruz del Sol” (1996), a sculptural installation dedicated to the Congo culture (Palo Monte) and inserted within Callejón de Hamel.
That same year, the artist created a set of sculptures from everyday objects that, in some cases, had been discarded, such as tubs, wheels and keys, and many more. His most recent sculpture at Callejón de Hamel is called “Changó and Santa Barbara,” a tribute to the process of syncretism that is so visible in his entire body of work.
Under Salvador González’s drive, Callejón de Hamel is much more than murals and sculptures that attract passersby, whether Cubans or visitors from other countries. It is a kind of reservoir of cultural and religious customs that contributes to enrich the sense of identity. One thing that is safe at the famous alley is rumba—not the ballroom dance but the one that has preserved its African roots. Every Sunday at noon, rumba takes center stage with Salvador’s art as the perfect background. Salvador, undoubtedly, has held intimate conversations with the orishas, a fact that is evident in each of his artistic efforts in which he involves the entire community of Callejón de Hamel.
Although Calle Hamel is really just an extension of Calle animas, between Aramburu and Espada it is known as Callejón de Hamel for the fascinating arts and dance project created by Salvador Gonzales Escalona in this run down Cayo Hueso neighborhood. Salvador has painted large bright Afro-Cuban
read more… May 2013