Havana’s Callejón de Hamel [Hamel Alley] is a visual spectacle: a street of full of shrines, diverse sculptural pieces, and colorful murals. It has been considered a public temple to Santería and African influences in Cuban culture. Much of the artwork there has been created by artist Salvador González Escalona since 1990. Sunday afternoons come alive there with live rumba music and impromptu dancing. Located between Aramburu and Hospital streets, it is a 15-minute walk west of central Havana. This year, Callejón de Hamel is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Recently, historian Elías Aceff Alfonso defined this community project as “an example of urban transgression that gathers the first and only group of sculptures and murals dedicated to highlight the value of the Afro Cuban culture.” During a press conference held at the popular alley of the Cayo Hueso [Key West] neighborhood in Havana, Aceff Alfonso, who is also a cultural promoter, informed that the commemorative event for the alley’s anniversary will start on April 21 with a traditional Cuban music ceremony dedicated to Ángel Díaz. Several activities will be going on to commemorate the 20 years since the founding of Callejón de Hamel, including a theoretical reflection on race and history at the Callejón by writer Roberto Zurbano on April 22. The event will end on April 25 with a Changó Tambor (Chango drum) session.
Born in Camaguey in 1948, artist Salvador González, creator of the project, is a painter, muralist, sculptor, and metals technologist. Commenting on the anniversary, González declared that he was “happy and proud as a father, brother and son of a space that has become a means of cultural socialization” and is a symbol of the identity of a community: “In reality, the Callejón de Hamel is a heavy load of poetic images and sculpture that you have to live through, as you have lived it in the rumba, in all of the goings-on that take place around it. This is, for many, a thing of magic, because it is the result of a conversation with the orishas over a period of many years. It’s where you can see the landing of the white dove of Obbatalá that flies and flies and flies until it finds its place here.”
González explains that “the Cayo Hueso neighborhood is a barrio of the people, with a great cultural force which has given rise to some magnificent artists. It is so called because in the past many people from Key West, Florida, lived here, mostly tobacco workers who wound up settling here. People in the area started referring to ‘the people from Cayo Hueso,’ cubanizing Key West. From that came the ‘barrio Cayo Hueso.’”
For a glimpse at the artwork, see