Bespoke Cuban Holidays for the Discerning Traveller

It was the Midas King shoe that drew my attention. Or, the ‘fuck me shoe’ as my compañera aptly christened the red sequined shoe studded in silver balls and topped by an erect black felt penis.
The twinkling footwear was Cuban artist Marlys Fuego’s creative contribution to fellow artist Luidmila López Domínguez’s Havana Biennial show in May this year —profundamente superficiales (deeply superficial) — a gallery-cum-shoe shop exhibiting shoes designed by 100 Cuban artists.
Next month, Fuego launches her own veritable phallic fest. Her solo exhibition ‘Pink’ opens at the Galería Collage Habana in Centro Habana; at the same time her work will appear in ‘Ellas sí hablan’ (Woman do speak), a collective show at Villa Manuela in Vedado along with artists Rocío García, whose work focuses on homoerotic relations, and Rachel Valdés, she of the glorious long mirror (Happily Ever After) stationed on Havana’s Malecón during the city’s 2012 Art Biennial.
Among Fuego’s new work to appear at Villa Manuela are ‘Soft Drink’, an overwhelmingly pink and sparkly self-portrait of the artist sucking on giant penis drinking straws in Pop Art style; and ‘Hermanos’ (Brothers) – small soft felt toys with pink trunks dressed in pink and white bows with white fluff pubic hair.
For ‘Pink’, whose title refers to the term for young girls’ clothes (rositas), Fuego’s works include ‘Cazador’ (Hunter), a canvas spray-painted with stencilled butterfly motifs where a female hunter (Fuego herself) holds a rifle for a potshot at some rather cute and colourful glittery flying penises. ‘Paradise’ is thick with a garden of plump patterned fabric flowers whose pistils are protruding giant penises – glued in place with silicone.
As I snigger my way around the huge studio she shares with her partner and fellow artist William Pérez in Centro Habana, I spot a large fuchsia pink poufe deep buttoned in the middle. The ‘Anus’ was being fitted with frills, ribbons and a big bow in readiness for the ‘Pink’ show.
Across the other side of the studio — an ex-government warehouse — two mannequins, a study in transvestism, are cross-dressed. One blancmange pink mannequin wears a white tutu skirt and sports a dangling pink felt penis; the other wears a false breast corset and shiny purple epaulettes.
Fuego explained her interest and work in erotic art to me: “I’ve spent five years working with erotic art. In Cuba only a few people have touched this theme and it’s not a large movement here but recently there’s been an opening on this theme in this country and on the subject of sexuality. There’s been a lot of activity recently…”
In 2011, a gay man Ignacio Estrada married transgender woman Wendy Iriepa in Havana; there are regular and popular drag shows in town, and gay, bisexual and transgender rights are now on the agenda of the championing Cenesex, Cuba’s sex education organisation.
Fuego explained: “There were many taboos here in Cuba and repression related to those taboos —including homosexuality, but now there’s a euphoria about these subjects and awareness has escalated.”
For the 23-year-old, herself, it’s how the spectator reacts to her work that interests her most. “Visitors enter these types of shows with a serious face but then laugh at seeing a piece of erotic art. When people see a normal painting, their expression is pleasant but when someone sees a piece of erotic art — there’s always a strong, explosive reaction. The reaction always gives me great pleasure…,” she said.

“Pink” Galería Collage Habana, Calle San Rafael 103 between Calle Consulado and Calle Industria, Centro Habana. From the beginning of September.
“Ellas sí Hablan”, a collective exhibition at Villa Manuela, Calle H, No. 406 between Calle 17 y Calle 19, El Vedado with Marlys Fuego, Rocío García, Rachel Valdés, Katiuska Saavedra, and Adriana Marmorek. From from 31st August-28 September.

Claire Boobbyer

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