I know them from forever, since I ventured beyond my neighborhood of dirty facades to a Havana that never ceases to surprise me. You could say they resemble almost all my friends: hairy, alternative and smiling. They are similar to those young people who crowded into our living room a few years ago, to play the guitar and spend the blackout among songs and poems. The folks at Omni Zona Franca also use a pot for a hat, a skirt to cover the legs of men, or a long staff made from a tree branch. Rebels all, they broke with sentimental apologist poetry, with the standards of good dress, and even institutionalized, and therefore prudent, art.
The scene of their performances is none other than this suburb of Alamar, designed to house the New Man. Today a dysfunctional conglomeration of buildings, all identical, where no one would want to live and from where residents rarely manage to move to another area. Positioned on the grass with little thought given to urban planning, these concrete blocks have been the inspiration for several of Omni’s artistic actions. I remember when area residents called the police on seeing arms and heads rise among the mountains of trash that no truck had collected for weeks. It was a way these young people found to tell their fellow citizens: we are drowning in waste, we can barely breathe in the midst of so much garbage.
Every December, Omni organizes the Festival of Poetry Without End, and the current program has been marked by the closure of its venue at the Alamar House of Culture. Between police patrols and the irate voice of the vice minister for culture, these chronic irreverents had to leave a space that had been theirs for twelve years. They were allowed to take away the posters, ceramics, a pair of old typewriters, and a laptop on which they edited videos and wrote their webpage. The program of activities moved to the living rooms of houses and the garage of a friend, all without suspending the long “Festival of Light.” Today they will be carrying an enormous offering for the health of poetry to the St. Lazarus shrine in the town of Rincón. They will raise their arms over the enormous figure made of branches and will ask for a verse, an harmonious rhyme or the chorus from a hip hop song.
Those who removed them from their headquarters last Friday, intending to punish them with homelessness, don’t understand that their art springs from the asphalt, from the crazy man who begs for alms on a corner, and from this city, crippled but intense, that today is Alamar.