La Marca, a Cuban Alternative Space for Cultural Resistance

La Marca tattoo studio, located in Old Havana. Photo: El Toque

By Alexander Hall Lujardo  (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – La Marca Tattoo Studio is one of the most important cultural spaces today, playing a similar role like those at the height of the 1930s. It opened its doors in January 2015, founded by a group of friends, and is buried in Old Havana. The private nature of the facility hasn’t limited its ability to develop a wide-ranging program of activities with a meaningful social impact. Dozens of artists from the most different artistic fields meet there.

With a timetable far-removed from any standard, it breaks away from traditional business models, marked by an interest in profit accumulation and reproduction. At La Marca, filmmakers, painters, poets, storytellers, musicians, and speakers have presented the result of their creative and investigative work, without censorship, within a space where they only want to spread their work among society and gain recognition for it. All of this is also possible thanks to easy access to the space as all its activities have free entry.

The Studio has also welcomed solo exhibitions from artists such as Juan Carlos Garcia Marrero, Ernesto Castañon, Oslendy Hernandez, Yanahara Mauri, Louis Arturo Aguirre and Yaimel Lopez. Photo: El Toque

It is a unique space because it is a bastion for talent from creators who are marginalized from hegemonic spaces that promote rising talent; whether that’s because they are regulated by top-down/centralized standards that then dictate whether state-led institutions recognize them or because of arbitrary classifications that experts outline with academic curatorial guidelines. In this regard, exhibitions at independent galleries in the Cuban capital are normally in keeping with a snobbish, learned, and meritocratic outlook. Thus, patterns outside of consumption and appreciation are set which are far-removed from the interests of the communities where they come from, while also forming an economic barrier with residents in the neighborhood.

These bastions have become spaces that restrict access for mass enjoyment because of their elitist conception that are marked by Anglo/Eurocentric consumption patterns. Thereby contributing to a social fabric that crushes the extensive forms of social interaction, by implementing new codes of hierarchal cods of sector recognition.

Art, research and scientific knowledge

La Marca’s flexible policy encourages educational discussions to develop on a wide range of subjects. These include the need to build a more just society based on equity and collective wellbeing, as well as the importance of autonomy and parental responsibilities in early childhood (terms that were the object of different disinformation campaigns in discussions that led up to the Family Act Referendum in 2022). Discussions were also facilitated about the complexity of colonial feminisms marked by a trans-exclusionary agenda, encouraged by Black activist and trans feminist/decolonial intellectual Mel Herrera; not forgetting theoretical exchanges presented by political economist Miguel Alejandro Hayes in his well-known podcast Trinchera Abierta.

It has also become the home of conferences about Socialism and Republic in Cuba, led by intellectual Julio Cesar Guanche. The scientific/dissemination work continues with a social commitment to holding conversations about anarchist tradition and the decolonization of knowledge, led by historian Mario Castillo Santana. Meanwhile, storyteller Margarita Mateo Palmer chose this space to present her long-awaited book Ella escribia poscritica (Ediciones Holguin, 2019).

The short movie Un tipo como tu (2022) by trans filmmaker Ava Gonzalez Formet, was also screened here, casting a light on areas that are barely addressed in the LGBTIQ+ community. Director Yasmani Castro Caballero screened her movie Gente de Campo from the same year, which focused on addressing sexual and gender diversity in rural areas.

La Marca also brings together eco-friendly proposals from people who advocate for a more harmonious and sustainable environment, combined with civic awareness that defend alternative values to the hyper capitalist logic of production and consumption. Similarly, community activism and their influence on childhood are also at the heart of their agenda. Their focus on teaching artistic techniques, art exhibitions, craft workshops and environmental education encourages a more holistic education from a young age.

Anti-establishment rap and alternative music at home

In late 2022, rapper Rene Diaz (Elokuente) promoted the idea of holding a monthly hip-hop gathering at La Marca. The public would thus have access to the genre, which has been marginalized historically by music regulatory institutions on the island, due to its rebellious nature as it expresses the raw sentiment of poor groups on the social-economic ladder.

The Studio had previously opened its doors to well-known rappers Kamankola, Lxs Krudxs and Elokuente. However, an excellent synergy of young performers – Milton McDonald, EIDI, Neto RAP, Isla Escarlata, Dekano, Frank Mitchel and Briana Weapons – has been created with well-known artists from the alternative contemporary scene – Etian Brebaje Man, Navy Pro, Sekou -; which has been a platform for a transformative message about heartbreaking realities.

La Marca embellishes the disruptive sentiment of these proposals to facilitate society’s access to learning about the different aspects that make up the complexities of existing in Cuban society. This is how it has become an inevitable model of cultural resistance for those cast aside by the national project upheld by their political representatives.

The space breaks the rigid framework of a private business and is proof that you can build a conscious association that is committed to teaching social values; while it also consolidates itself as a breeding ground for talent and as a space for those who have been excluded from the systemic structure.

Out of all of its praiseworthy achievements, we can only wish that its liberating energy continues to inspire new generations.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times