BBC reports on the Havana International Art Bienial festival – Art in the Street

There are huge ants crawling all over the front of a theatre in the Cuban capital, a naked man tethered to the sea wall, and two women crocheting non-stop in the sweltering sunshine.

It is all part of the Havana Bienal, whose organisers have decided to bring much of the art work out of "elite" galleries this year and into the public space, allowing more people than ever access to the exhibits and performances.

So in some of the city's shabbiest backstreets, giant portraits of elderly local residents have appeared on crumbling walls.

The wrinkles on their faces blend with the cracks in the brickwork.

Artist Rachel Valdes' mirror has been drawing big crowds "It's the first time in Cuba there is another face up other than Che or Fidel or Raul. Just someone from the street, who's not famous," says French artist JR, who painted 21 people for the project with Cuban Jose Parla.

"That's what has most amazed people. When we tell them it's just one of their neighbours, they're lost for words," JR says.

"People are very educated about art here, but a lot don't go to galleries," adds Parla. "So I think it's really important what we're doing, bringing art to the public."

And it is not only in the backstreets: the Bienal has transformed Havana's famous seafront into an open-air art gallery.

The Malecon is where Cubans come to chat and flirt, reflect and dream perched on the long, low wall. Locals refer to it as the city's sitting room.

Critical tone? Now they are sharing that space with installations including a deconstructed cannon, hammocks strung between goal posts, and a set of bright red doors that lead nowhere.

"The Malecon is the site of so many experiences, joyful and sad, where so many emotions have played out. This is a tribute to that past, the present and the future," explains curator Juan Delgado.

Many of the exhibits suggest a strong social commentary, very rare in Cuba, on themes including borders, free movement and emigration.

This article by Sarah Rainsford, BBC continues at

plus video of the art in the street