Cuban artist switches Havana's neon lights back on

From Reuters - March 1, 2018

HAVANA (Reuters) - After dusk in Havana, an ice-blue neon sign illuminates the faded facade of the Cine El Megano, one of many abandoned movie houses in the Cuban capital, lighting up a once vibrant corner at the heart of the Caribbean city that had gone pitch black in recent decades.

The glowing neon italic letters fill the buildings colonial facade with an art-deco accent between the doors below and the wraparound balcony above. It is the work of Cuban artist Kadir Lopez Nieves, who is restoring the vintage signs of the cinemas, hotels and cabarets that lit up Havanas nightlife in its 1950s heyday.

His project, dubbedHabana Light Neon + Signs, has so far restored around 50 signs, reflecting a broader revival in Havana. The city, one of the architectural jewels of Latin America, has been enjoying a tourism boom.

They called it the Broadway or Paris of the Caribbean because it had so much light and brilliance, said Lopez Nieves, during an interview in his workshop and gallery.But when I started out the project...Havana was switched off in terms of light.

After Fidel Castros 1959 leftist revolution, many of Havanas ritzy entertainment venues, often run by American mobsters and frequented by the rich and famous, were shuttered or slowly became run-down.

Over the decades, tropical weather wrought havoc on their neon signs. The Communist-run island - laboring under a U.S. embargo - often lacked the funds and know-how to fix them.

As elsewhere, other forms of lighting - such as LEDs - proved cheaper and the ornate neon signs were abandoned.

Lopez Nieves, whose work plays with memory and nostalgia, set about restoring the neon lights of a dozen cinemas as a project for the Havana Biennial arts festival in 2015. His work delighted locals.

Its lending more life to the city at night, said Alberto Echavarria, 68, guarding a carpark down the road from the Cine Megano. He said the sign recalled the oncefabulous ambiance of the neighborhood, which lies close to Havanas neo-classical Capitol Building.

Shining incandescent from afar, the sign also helped to make the run-down area more salubrious by chasing away shady characters, he said.


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