A report by Bailey Freeman for Lonely Planet.
In early September, Hurricane Irma slammed much of the Caribbean; a behemoth in size, the Category 5 storm sustained 185 mph winds and at one point was as wide as the state of Texas. Cuba received a substantial hit from the record-breaking hurricane – towns and keys along the north coast were left devastated and the capital city Havana experienced waist-deep flooding and building collapses. One Cuban artist, however, was determined to bring some light to a bleak situation.
Yulier Rodríguez Pérez is a street artist hailing from Cuba’s Camaguey Province who has been painting hundreds of murals across Havana over the past three years. When the floodwaters rose in Havana during and after Hurricane Irma, Rodríguez decided to share some art with people who needed it the most. He bottled up several of his sketches and sent them floating down the streets and alleyways of Cuba’s capital, hopefully to be picked up by a curious citizen.
In an interview with Miami New Times, the Rodríguez referred to this floating installation as ‘art-colored tenderness’ for those enduring a difficult time. Many are likely to recognize his work – his figures, which are sprawled across walls all over the city, are characterized by their gaunt figures contrasted with splashes of color and distorted through an abstract artist’s eye. To Rodríguez, they represent the Cuban reality, one that has long been characterized by hardship but also beauty.
Rodríguez’s art has not been without controversy. In late August he was detained by Cuban police and told to remove all paintings from the city walls; the fate of his public art post-hurricane remains to be seen.
Hurricane Irma passed over the majority of the northern Caribbean, severely damaging several island nations. Recovery efforts were temporarily disrupted by two more hurricanes, Jose and Maria, in the following days, the latter storm adding to the already catastrophic damage. If you would like to donate to hurricane relief funds, please read Lonely Planet’s most recent article on recovery efforts.