Graham Sowa

FIART at the San Carlos de la Cabaña fortress.
FIART at the San Carlos de la Cabaña fortress.

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba’s largest artisans fair, FIART, opens Monday to the public in its new location at the fortress overlooking the Havana harbor entrance. It will run through December 22. [The fair was scheduled to open Sunday but was put off a day for the national mourning declared for the death of Nelson Mandela.]

FIART outgrew its previous location, Pabexpo, in the Playa-Miramar neighborhood of west Havana.  This year shoppers will be laying siege to the San Carlos de la Cabaña fortress instead of trying to navigate the impossibly congested exhibition halls of the previous location.

In addition to a more spacious setting the setting caters to an already well established tourist market.

Every evening around dusk tourist busses start arriving so visitors can see a Disneyland production of a cannon firing while looking over the cityscape of Havana.  The organizers of FIART probably thought this was a better location for access to tourists dollars rather than out-of-the-way Pabexpo.

Even though this year’s fair is evidently trying to attract more foreign attendees there has also been a greater international vendor presence than years past.

The international vendors mostly come from Central and South American countries.  They import their goods, which range from obviously locally produced crafts to crafts that appear locally produced but probably had a ¨Made in China¨ sticker on them at some point in time.

Both Cuban and foreign vendors pay around 60 CUC per square meter to market what they brought, with prices varying on location and if the booth is indoor or outdoor.

FIART setup before the fair.
FIART setup before the fair.

The indoor booths are inside the old barracks and storage rooms of the fort, built out of stone and brick, which date to 200-250 years back.  The centuries old passageways and low ceilings form a maze of interconnecting chambers that, given enough visitors, will probably create the same sweatbox sensation of Pabexpo but with less headroom.

This year´s fair is coming with some unforeseen expenses as vendors also have to set up lighting and electricity for their booths, a market which the Cuban cuenta-propistas (self-employed) are happily attending to.

While FIART is billed as an international event this year’s theme is dedicated to the Pinar del Rio province and the Cuban tobacco culture.

The agrarian flavor is complemented by a couple of big ticket items.

I saw a camper, which looks like something a gypsy family from the 1800’s would live in, complete with flat screen T.V. and air conditioner for 21,500 CUC.  I told the vendor I would buy it right away if I could stand up without hitting my head.  It’s still there for sale, preferably to someone of slightly shorter stature.

FIART 2013
FIART 2013

Los Carpenteros, the famed artistic duo from Havana, are promoting their entrance into the Cuban housing market with a full size wood frame house constructed on site.  I didn’t get around to asking the price, but I did comment that it might be a good idea if they let some of the families who lost their homes during the flooding the other week stay in the house until someone bought it.

In addition to these big ticket items there is the usual offering of artisan furniture and home décor that costs as much as a Cuban salary worker makes in 10 or 20 years.

Even with the ever present undertones of class divide when looking at such items in the context of Cuba it is refreshing to see creativity and innovation on display.

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The fair will be open to the public daily from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.


Graham

Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

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