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Art Hour: A look at famed Cuban art space FAC, through the night.

Art Hour: A look at famed Cuban art space FAC, through the night.

Photo by Joshua Qualls
Havana is known for its art and culture. But perhaps nowhere in the city is the explosion of creativity more obvious that at Fábrica de Arte Cubano or the Cuban Art Factory. Known as FAC and open from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursdays through Sundays, the warehouse-style complex is a thriving, pulsing exhibit space filled with contemporary art including photography, videos, sculpture and interactive pieces. Live performances also electrify the factory’s many floors and platforms. Below is an hour-by-hour snapshot of the scene at FAC. Told in words, photos, video and audio, these vignettes offer short glimpses of what FAC offers to hundreds of locals and tourists throughout the night. 

9 p.m. – 10 p.m.

By Story Hinckley | Photo by Joshua Qualls

A patron asks Russell Reyes for directions, and he obliges with a smile. When he points down the hallway, the sleeves of his polo shirt stretch across his biceps. It’s only 9:30 p.m. and so only a handful of patrons peruse the photographs hanging in the cavernous hallways. But the line is already wrapping out the door and around the corner as locals and tourists get ready for one of Havana’s most popular nightspots. 

Reyes, 35, works as a security guard at the Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) in Havana, a former oil factory on Calle 26 that has become a late-night laboratory for Cuban contemporary artists. 

And the security team’s jobs reflect the complexity of FAC’s mission. At once a museum, a night club and a concert venue, FAC tries to be something entirely different. Just as this venue is unbound by expectations or the status quo, so does the security team bring originality to their own profession.

“A lot of people who work security are uptight, but we smile,” says Yanko Ouesta, 35, who has worked as a security guard at FAC since just after it opened in 2014. “If you are always serious, you will intimidate someone instead of having them respect you. You can still have a good time and do your job.”

During their shifts, typically the four nights that FAC is open from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., the security team is assigned to different exhibits or performance areas. Their most common tasks are making sure no patron touches the art, or the glass protecting the art and walking out drunk guests.

Tony Brancho, 33, the self-described “second-in-command” for the security team, usually walks one to three drunk guests to the exit each night. His record one night was six. 

The team isn’t afraid to kick guests out. First, they are fit. The guards work out together for hours each day before their shifts. Some box, others do martial arts. But more importantly, the security team at FAC is proud of the job they do and the artwork they protect.

“The security of this place is dependent on my job,” says Reyes. “So many people are protected because of the job I do.”

10 p.m. – 11 p.m.

Produced by Daniel Hentz and Estelle De Zan

At 10 p.m. the Fábrica begins to pulse with the rhythm of swelling crowds and echoing music. At the center is an open, wall-to-wall theater, flanked by an up-lit bar and a chic film photography exhibit. Here, the convergence of men and women from far-flung countries becomes apparent as exchanges of Spanish, English, German and French fill the air. This photo exhibit, featuring the work of Greg Martin from Cleveland, Ohio, showcases myriad black and white photographs that embrace the dance of blue, purple and pink strobe lights from the celebration nearby.

 

11 p.m. – 12 a.m.

Photo courtesy of Enrique Wong Diaz

By Jane Marks

In the large smoking area just after 11 p.m., a towering statue stands at the center, surrounded by benches that face in its direction. “Nostalgia” was created by Enrique Wong Diaz and features a woman, faceless, wrapped in a 60-year-old Cuban flag. Where her face would have been is a warm light, glowing underneath Cuba’s red, white and blue that instead acts as her hood.Like much of Diaz’s work, the piece sparks political conversations. “Even just looking at this is a political act,” said Yenier Eumeta, a Cuban native and musician of 24 years. For him, he sees the woman as lonely and empty because of the missing face. Eumeta is reminded of the way he feels about the economic state of Cuba when he looks at her.

However, not everyone sees the statue this way. Some view it as a protector that towers above, keeping watch. “I think that maybe it’s high up because it’s watching over us,” said Oliver Bertrand, a tourist visiting Cuba for the first time from Germany.

The height of the fiberglass and resin statue, over 9 feet tall, plus its 3-foot-base, helps with this theory, with visitors having to crane their neck to see the top.

Whether visitors at the museum came from across town, or across an ocean to get there, Fábrica de Arte Cubano gives its visitors the opportunity to explore their own opinions through discussions about art like “Nostalgia.”

12 a.m. – 1 a.m.

By Seamus McAvoy | Photo by Joshua Qualls

By midnight, Fábrica de Arte Cubano is in full swing. Which makes sense — the dawn of a new day represents the midpoint of the art gallery’s hours of operation, running from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., and by now most patrons have made their way from myriad bars serving generously mixed beverages to one of numerous live DJ sets throughout the building. 

On the third floor, atop an elevated platform in the corner of the room opposite the main staircase, things are a bit quieter. The art here differs from what’s found on the walls of the maze-like building on the floors below, where the installations include portraits of undressed elderly Cuban couples and a sculpture of the island made entirely of brightly colored keys. These pieces are for sale, and blatantly political.

“Our reality is very political, and so is our art,” said Cristina Díaz, the curator of the exhibit. 

One wall features illustrations by Arístides E. Hernández, a Cuban political cartoonist and author, including a poster playing off the Sam Cooke-inspired campaign poster used by Barack Obama in 2008, adding an outline of the José Martí Memorial in the background and changing Obama’s “Yes We Can” slogan to “Yes We Came.” Obama made history in 2016 when he became the first president in nearly a century to visit Cuba. 

In the same year, the Rolling Stones put on a free concert for over 100,000 people in Havana to become the first major international rock band to perform on the island, and Hernández designed the promotional poster, a copy of which hangs beside the Obama icon. 

And yet, Hernandez’s art makes clear the complicated relationship between Cuba and the United States. Beneath his graphic design pieces hangs a cartoon with a scene of the Malecon, Havana’s landmark seawall and roadway, with old seaside buildings colored white save for a large structure in the center. The sign on the shopping center look-alike reads “WAL MARX” in bold red, white and blue. 

The pieces make evident the political tension, but they remain sequestered in the one commercialized section of  the building while most locals instead experience the sights and sounds of Fabrica de Arte Cubano’s interior. 

Díaz referred to a portrait on her right side of Bob Dylan, who accepted his Nobel Prize in literature in March of 2017, months after being awarded, and did not permit media personnel to attend. “[Dylan] received the Nobel, but not personally,” said Díaz. “Possibly because of his beliefs.”

1 a.m. – 2 a.m.

Produced by Amanda LaRiviere and Collyn Stephens | Photo by Joshua Qualls

At 1 in the morning, as crowds were thronging rooms with live performances, on the top floor of the factory in a quieter space, others were regarding naked portraits of men and women that spanned full walls and entire rooms in Fábrica de Arte. The aura of body positivity and empowerment, specifically toward women, was undeniable, and it just so happened to be International Women’s Day. Click below for an audio short from the hour.

 

2 a.m. – 3 a.m.

Produced by Emily Mitchell and Irvin Zhang

At the end of the evening, as Fábrica begins to close, our team took stock of the customers who stayed until the end. Some were Cuba, some were international tourists, but all shared a love and appreciation of the art and music on display.

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