Begin by meeting contemporary Cubans featured in life-sized portraits paired with short excerpts from interviews, offering a chorus of voices—from Cuba and abroad, young and old, urban and rural, pragmatic and optimistic. An introductory film about Cuba’s history provides a historical context for contemporary realities. Cuba is home to more than 11 million people, who can trace their ancestry to indigenous people, Spanish colonists, enslaved African, and immigrants from the Philippines, China, Europe, the Canary Islands, Jamaica, and Haiti.
A STROLL IN THE CITY
Cuba’s city streets have been shaped by the country’s history as a Spanish colony and the enormous wealth created by the sugar industry beginning in the early 1800s. In Havana and many other Cuban cities, stately plazas and grand boulevards are lined with colonnades, covered walkways with graceful arches and columns inspired by Renaissance Europe and ancient Greece and Rome. These airy, multicolored arcades offer protection from the elements as well as open space for community life.
A “plaza” evokes street life and is surrounded by exhibits and activities that explore Cuban culture.
- Tabletop activities encourage you to try Cuban dominoes, enjoy the aroma of a cup of Cuban coffee, listen to music you might find on a Cuban radio station today, and check out Cuba’s passion for their 16 baseball teams.
- A 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air reveals the story behind the vintage cars that famously rumble down Cuban streets.
- A bicitaxi—part bicycle, part taxi—is an example of one of Cuba’s entrepreneurial enterprises as a primary form of transportation for locals and tourists.
- A fruit and vegetable cart tells how Cuba’s food supply was drastically reduced in the 1990s, launching an urban agricultural movement among Cubans, who continue to sell their wares in Havana and other cities.
- Orisha is a spiritual practice with West African roots that is sometimes called Santeria. To honor the orishas, the sacred beings, practitioners sometimes create elaborate altars or “thrones,” sacred spaces that present these powerful beings in regal splendor. Two were created especially for the exhibition.
- A display explores the cultivation of tobacco and the story of the famous Cuban cigar, one of the country’s primary exports, with 100 million handcrafted and shipped around the world every year.
CUBA IS A NATURAL
The exhibition’s organizer, the American Museum of Natural History, has long collaborated with Cuban scientists and worked closely with the Cuban National Museum of Natural History to develop the biodiversity displays in the exhibition. Explore remote forests, mysterious caves, expansive wetlands, and dazzling reefs.
- Gardens of the Queen is a 840-square-mile marine reserve along southern Cuba, the largest in the Caribbean. Silvery fish zip past banks of coral studded with colorful starfish, sea fans, and sponges. The coral reef diorama showcases hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), which nest on beaches, and spotted eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari), which move between Cuba and the coasts of Florida and Mexico.
- Alejandro de Humboldt National Park, among the planet’s most biologically diverse island sites, is now carefully protected. Meet some of the rare animals that live there: almiquí (Solenodon cubanus), a mammal once thought extinct, and the bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae), which at about 1/20th of an ounce is the smallest bird in the world, and smaller than many bees.
- Zapata Biosphere Reserve is the largest wetlands in the Caribbean, covering 1.5 million acres and supporting a complex web of life. Its conservation is a top priority. Meet the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) and the Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer), which has the smallest population and geographical range of any crocodile.
- Cave deposits reveal a unique set of land animals, many of which are now extinct. In the cave diorama, see a life-size model of the largest owl that ever lived, Ornimegalonyx, which was 39 inches tall. Interactive exhibits include an exploration of landmass changes and sea-level rise over deep time, and a “hidden animals” game to search for Cuban wildlife in its natural habitat.
CUBA’S ARTSY SIDE
Perhaps best known as the birthplace of rhythmic dances like the mambo and the cha-cha, Cuba is home to a dynamic arts scene that is constantly evolving. The Cuban government has supported the arts, but it has also limited some artistic expression. Since the 1990s, reforms have allowed artists to travel abroad and sell their work and collaborate with other artists more freely.
- Poster art is a significant form of artistic expression in Cuba. You will see both vintage posters and posters created in the last decade by a new generation of Cuban artists.
- In an interactive art “gallery,” you may select from paintings, sculptures, or performance art created by Cuban artists to be projected on the walls.
CUBAN AMERICANS IN DENVER
Meet four local Cuban Americans who share stories and mementoes related to their connection to Cuba.
CUBA GIFT SHOP
Take home something to remember your visit to Cuba! Choose from a wide selection of merchandise. Museum members save 10 percent in the shop every day.