Cuban Ingenuity

The Artistry of the Everyday Inventor

When Gabriela Azcuy met husband-to-be Jorge Lavoy in Havana in 2013, it was not the charming, attractive fellow she initially fell in love with – it was his car.
Azcuy was a graduate in Art History from the Faculty of Arts and Letters of the University of Havana – and Lavoy’s car was a work of art that commanded her attention.
A bright green Dodge Dart 1966 coupe with a powerful personality, named La Rana (The Frog), the car was a veritable United Nations of car parts: a French Renault diesel 12 engine, a Russian Volga 21 differential, a Korean Hyundai transmission, a Russian Mosckvich steering system, a Soviet truck diesel tank, and a German Bosch diesel pump.
As spectacular an amalgamation as she was, La Rana was not a rarity.
The iconic 1950s US manufactured automobiles, often seen as a visual symbol of the time-warp of Havana, commonly have engine parts from Soviet Volgas, French Renaults, Japanese Mitsubishis. Their interiors are inventive and original solutions.
An entire class of Cuban cars are known as Frankensteins, referring to the fact that the car bodies are not identifiable as any particular model or maker. Aptly named for Mary Shelley’s fictitious creator of a fantastic monster assembled from the assorted body parts found in “the dissecting room and the slaughterhouse,” each car is as unique as its creator. These inventive composites of auto body parts salvaged from Soviet, Japanese, and US vehicles can be seen from Havana to the coastal towns to the interior villages of Cuba today.
Gaby Azcuy’s attention turned from the car to the car’s creator – and the two are now living in the United States and are partners in both life and work. She specializes as an art curator. Lavoy’s career includes art making, curating, filmmaking, acting, and audio engineering. During childhood in Cuba, the two took for granted the everyday creativity necessary for survival. Over time and distance they came to realize how extraordinary inventions were commonplace in ordinary life in Cuba. Now the pair has combined their formidable talents to produce a groundbreaking exhibition highlighting the creativity of Cuban inventiveness in daily life.
Cuban Ingenuity — The Artistry of the Everyday Inventor opens at the Cade Museum in Gainesville on March 9 and runs through December, 2019. Co-curated by Azcuy and Lavoy, with Anne E. Gilroy, there are plans for the exhibition to travel to venues across the country. The idea originated in 1985 with Phoebe Cade, the museum’s president, in collaboration with photographer and Bulla Cubana founder Randy Batista, as an exhibit of photographs of Cuban inventions. The concept expanded after Azcuy and Lavoy were introduced to Gainesville through the 2017 Bulla Cubana celebration [see article in this issue of Arbus] to include a collection of objects that would reside permanently in the Cade Museum.

Read MoreBy Anne E. Gilroy

Author: Arbus

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