Cuban artist Salvador González Escalona, founder of Havana’s famous Callejon de Hamel

Cuban artist Salvador Gonzalez Escalona (image from AfroCubaWeb

Salvador González Escalona, known to all as Salvador, the celebrated artist and cultural promoter of the Callejón de Hamel Community Sociocultural Project, from the Havana neighbourhood of Cayo Hueso, has ​​died in Havana (16 April 2021) leaving an indelible mark on Cuban culture, essentially in the visual arts and traditional popular culture, to which he was closely linked to his last days.

Born in Camagüey but having made Havana his home, Salvador found in the capital’s Cayo Hueso neighbourhood a space for making art and there he devoted much of his life to the development of community culture and the promotion of traditional popular culture.

He was self-taught and that did not prevent him from making art part of his life. He had his first exhibition ‘Arte Popular Cubano‘ at the Museo de Artes Decorativas in Havana in 1968. He focused his artistic concerns in the visual arts, reflecting in his work the influence of the greatest exponents of Mexican muralism Diego Rivera and Orozco, together with his understanding of the rich African heritage rooted in Cuban culture.

Salvador described his work as a mix of surrealism, cubism and abstract art, making paintings, murals and sculptures that have been exhibited all over the world.

His name acquired a certain relevance amongst Cuban artists due precisely to his work as a muralist, and this is clear in Callejón de Hamel, that space that for him was like a large gallery, a vital space for the creation and protection of Afro-Cuban traditions.

From 1990 Salvador started creating murals and sculptures in the side street known as Callejón de Hamel, near the University of Havana. He used scrap metal to make sculptures, and he used whatever type of paint was available for the murals.

He was inspired by local residents and visitors to continue his work, and gradually the street was transformed into an lively Afro-Cuban centre. Today there are workshops for local children to learn painting. Every Sunday there are rumba performances, and every Friday live music in the street.

A staunch defender of the essence of the nation’s identity, Salvador has left an indelible mark, the fruit of his deep commitment to his community.

This report is based on this one by CubaDebate supplemented by additional material.

Callejon de Hamel photo courtesy of Alice Mutasa

Watch this 8.5 min film on youtube of an interview with Salvador Gonzalez about 10 years ago