Recently we had a chance to visit Hector Pascual Gallo Portieles (“El Gallo”) - a former barber, then diplomat, now visionary artist/obsessive collector - and his “Garden and Gallery of Affections”, the yard in front and the interior of his humble apartment.  We arrived by public bus with no prior appointment. We asked our way to his front door and knocked. El Gallo, now in his nineties and walking with a cane, opened the door, and with a wide smile he let us into his own world. For the next several hours we walked around in awe of the installations we were seeing, and of their maker.
This year the Getty Foundation awarded its first Keeping It Modern grant for a building in Cuba, which is home to an eclectic array of modern architecture. The grant will support research and planning for the preservation of the National Schools of Art of Havana, an educational complex—made of local brick, mortar, and ceramic tiles—that was designed to train Cuba’s young people in “the integration of art, architecture, and landscape in a spirit of equality, freedom, and intercultural exchange.”
It is not known when during his young adulthood Josvedy started writing and drawing in notebooks, covering every inch of every page with images and dense text controlled by a unique calligraphy and accompanied by symbols and references known only to him. The stories he depicts are made-up fantasies and legends where real historical events are transformed into versions allowing their creator to assume different roles: he becomes a member of European royalty (“Prince of England”) who speaks dozens of languages, a Nobel prize winner, a scientist, an inventor, and so on.
On one of our visits to Havana we had an opportunity to visit the internationally renowned Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), a school for visual arts that was formally established in 1976 by the Cuban government on the grounds of a former country club in the Havana suburb of Marianao. Roberto Diago, whose works we have been collecting for some 15 years, took us there.  Due to its visionary  architecture the ISA is currently being considered for inclusion on the World Heritage list of sites of “outstanding universal value” to the world.
Manuel Mendive Hoyo needs no introduction. We ourselves were long aware of this artist’s extraordinary body of work in the early 1990’s when we visited Havana during the notorious “special period”. He was already an internationally known artist then. Now, decades later, according to Wikipedia, “Manuel Mendive (born 1944) is one of the leading Afro-Cuban artists to emerge from the revolutionary period, and is considered by many to be the most important Cuban artist living today”. During a recent trip to Havana we decided to visit Mendive’s little town, the sleepy, charming colonial village where he has made his home for most of his life.
Carlos Garcia Huergo’s mysterious drawings combine images of human figures, birds or fantasy creatures with letters, names, numbers and mathematical and religious references. He thus creates a universe populated by inhabitants of his own inner environment which includes angels, devils and - always in the foreground - people, surrounded by text and mathematical symbols.
As every other country, Cuba has its share of artists who create their works out of the mainstream, far from the academy, unaware of or oblivious to the “art world”, and without the need of an audience or a marketplace. Often mentally disabled or homeless, they tend to work with humble materials including found objects or discarded packaging. Notable among these Havana based creators is Miguel Ramon Morales Diaz (“Ramon”).
From an essay on Cuban art collecting to a Billboard take on el paquete and the island’s music industry, this season has brought in-depth, thought-provoking coverage of Cuban art and culture. Here are Cuban Art News’ picks for must-read stories, plus a video. 
Cementerio Colón is a vast green expanse in El Vedado, Havana’s leafy seaside district. According to Wikipedia, “Colon Cemetery is one of the most important historical cemeteries in the world and is generally held to be the most important in Latin America in historical and architectural terms, second only to La Recoleta in Buenos Aires".  On any regular day locals visiting family graves mingle with foreign tourists and with Cuban pilgrims who flock to the tomb of Señora Amelia Goyri, better known as La Milagrosa, a high society woman who was buried here in 1903 together with her infant after dying in childbirth. 
Since a Papal visit to Cuba in 1998 forced the Castro government to undo its ban of religious practices, worshippers of all flavors were out in the open again, yet none more so than the adherents of the Yoruba based religion which, fused with Catholic elements, has been practiced widely in Afro-Caribbean regions since the beginning of trans-Atlantic slave trade. Santería, conducted in secrecy during much of the Cuban revolution, had started to bubble up to the surface again.
To tell the story about how we - that is Michael and I - became friends with Juan Roberto Diago Durruthy, commonly known as  “Diago”, I have to tell it backwards.    The last time we saw him in Havana, in January of 2017, Diago started reminiscing. How long had we known each other? More than a dozen years, and much had changed. Now that he is an international star in the contemporary art world, he is represented by major galleries, and his works are included in international museum collections and featured by leading auction houses. 
New Year’s Eve before last we were in Havana as part of a multi-week Cuba stay (our 10th or 11th in 25 years). We settled into our lovely little apartment on the Plaza del Cristo and were ready for whatever  would happen as midnight on the 31st approached.  The balconies up and down and across Calle Amargura, our street, are filled with people. Then comes the moment, and we pop our bubbly. All our neighbors are raising glasses, too (most likely cider), and we all toast to each other, from balcony to balcony. Then comes the first splashing sound, and moments later the entire street sounds like a waterfall for just a few seconds. 
In 2005 we went to Cienfuegos, Cuba, for the first time. Our main objective was to get to know several Cuban artists whose works we liked, and visit some art galleries we had heard of. One evening we were invited to a gallery opening somewhere, and afterwards the party shifted to Miguel Angel’s house. Everybody came along, including that terrific musician duo who had played during the opening. Steeped in Cuban musical tradition, they were the perfect team for the occasion.
José Garcia (“Pepe”) Montebravo was one of Cuba’s truly great self-taught artists, populating his canvases with his famous “Infanta” women, with Afro-Cuban deities, and with winged creatures both human and animal. In many of his paintings turtles, lizards, roosters, blackbirds, fish, dogs, suns and moons intersect with other-wordly characters in human form. The titles of his works are as mysterious and multi-layered as the pieces themselves: Stew of Fantasies, Confused Situation, Time Trapped, Hazards of Memory….