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Cuban graffiti artist makes his mark in Havana

Associated Press logo Associated Press 2/14/2017 By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ, Associated Press
In this Feb. 9, 2017 photo, graffiti artist Yulier Rodriguez Perez poses with one of his works, painted on a wall in Old Havana, Cuba. Three years ago, the whimsical designs of the 27-year-old artist with the signature Yulier P. began to appear on walls in Havana where graffiti is rare. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) © The Associated Press In this Feb. 9, 2017 photo, graffiti artist Yulier Rodriguez Perez poses with one of his works, painted on a wall in Old Havana, Cuba. Three years ago, the whimsical designs of the 27-year-old artist with the signature Yulier P. began to appear on walls in Havana where graffiti is rare. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

HAVANA (AP) — The whimsical designs of the graffiti artist with the signature Yulier P. began to appear randomly on walls around Havana three years ago. The first ones were large abstract renderings of rabbits, their floppy ears outlined in black against chipped concrete.

In this Feb. 9, 2017 photo, graffiti artist Yulier Rodriguez Perez poses with one of his works, painted on a wall in Old Havana, Cuba. Rodriguez was born in the central province of Camagüey, where he says he tried without success to get a formal art education. He gave up and ended up learning on his own with local teachers. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) © The Associated Press In this Feb. 9, 2017 photo, graffiti artist Yulier Rodriguez Perez poses with one of his works, painted on a wall in Old Havana, Cuba. Rodriguez was born in the central province of Camagüey, where he says he tried without success to get a formal art education. He gave up and ended up learning on his own with local teachers. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Now, there is hardly a neighborhood in the Cuban capital where you can't find one of the sprawling works of Yulier P. They include enormous gaping mouths 2 yards (meters) high, or flowers mixed either with the image of a woman or in the hands of a child.

In this Feb. 9, 2017 photo, the urban artist Yulier Rodriguez Perez, 27, artistically known as Yulier P. puts his signature on a painting after finishing it on a street in Old Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) © The Associated Press In this Feb. 9, 2017 photo, the urban artist Yulier Rodriguez Perez, 27, artistically known as Yulier P. puts his signature on a painting after finishing it on a street in Old Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

The works of the 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodriguez Perez, are striking not just for their artistry and ubiquity, but that they exist at all in a place where graffiti is rare and nearly all posters and murals feature political slogans or revolutionary figures. His art stands out not only for being different, but for its sly sense of social criticism.

In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, the work of urban artist Yulier P. adorns a wall on a street in Havana, Cuba. The works of the 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez Pérez, are striking not just for their artistry and ubiquity, but the fact that they exist at all in a place where graffiti is rare. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) © The Associated Press In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, the work of urban artist Yulier P. adorns a wall on a street in Havana, Cuba. The works of the 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez Pérez, are striking not just for their artistry and ubiquity, but the fact that they exist at all in a place where graffiti is rare. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

"It is important to me that the urban artist expresses himself freely, not restricted by anyone, whether it's a gallery or the government," Rodriguez said in an interview with The Associated Press.

In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, a pedestrian walks past street art by urban artist Yulier P. adorning a wall on a street in Havana, Cuba. "It is important to me that the urban artist express himself freely, not restricted by anyone, not a gallery, not a government," said the 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez Pérez. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) © The Associated Press In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, a pedestrian walks past street art by urban artist Yulier P. adorning a wall on a street in Havana, Cuba. "It is important to me that the urban artist express himself freely, not restricted by anyone, not a gallery, not a government," said the 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez Pérez. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Cuba has long had a thriving art scene and in recent years there has been a boom for works by some of the island's most famous painters, including Manuel Mendive, Roberto Fabelo and Nelson Dominguez.

In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, the work of urban artist Yulier P. adorns a wall on a street in Havana, Cuba. Cuba has long had a thriving art scene and there has in recent years been a boom for works by some of the island's most famous painters. But the 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez Pérez did not emerge from the artistic establishment and the kind of urban art he practices is unusual here. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) © The Associated Press In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, the work of urban artist Yulier P. adorns a wall on a street in Havana, Cuba. Cuba has long had a thriving art scene and there has in recent years been a boom for works by some of the island's most famous painters. But the 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez Pérez did not emerge from the artistic establishment and the kind of urban art he practices is unusual here. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

But Rodriguez did not emerge from the artistic establishment.

In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, the work of urban artist Yulier P. adorns a wall on a street in Havana, Cuba. Three years ago, the whimsical designs of the graffiti artist with the signature Yulier P. began to appear randomly on walls throughout Havana. The first ones were large abstract renderings of rabbits, their floppy ears outlined in black against chipped concrete. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) © The Associated Press In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, the work of urban artist Yulier P. adorns a wall on a street in Havana, Cuba. Three years ago, the whimsical designs of the graffiti artist with the signature Yulier P. began to appear randomly on walls throughout Havana. The first ones were large abstract renderings of rabbits, their floppy ears outlined in black against chipped concrete. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

He was born in the central province of Camaguey, where he said he tried without success to get a formal art education. Instead, he learned on his own with local teachers, participating in community workshops and using his own walls for a canvas. He said he sees his work as a political and social statement.

In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, work of urban artist Yulier P. adorns a wall on a street in Old Havana, Cuba. The 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez Pérez says, "The urban artist questions society and politics, the realities of life in the streets," which for him includes a sense of helplessness and frustration over the struggles of daily life that may not fit with the image many have of Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) © The Associated Press In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, work of urban artist Yulier P. adorns a wall on a street in Old Havana, Cuba. The 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez Pérez says, "The urban artist questions society and politics, the realities of life in the streets," which for him includes a sense of helplessness and frustration over the struggles of daily life that may not fit with the image many have of Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

"The urban artist questions society and politics, the realities of life in the streets," which for him includes a sense of helplessness and frustration over the daily struggles that may not fit with the image many have of Cuba.

In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, the work of urban artist Yulier P. adorns a wall on a street in Old Havana, Cuba. The 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez, has not catalogued his paintings, which typically take about 40 minutes to complete, but estimates that he has done around 150, mostly in Havana. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) © The Associated Press In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, the work of urban artist Yulier P. adorns a wall on a street in Old Havana, Cuba. The 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez, has not catalogued his paintings, which typically take about 40 minutes to complete, but estimates that he has done around 150, mostly in Havana. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

While he does not have the government's endorsement, he seems to be tolerated. Rodriguez said that the police have never interfered with his work and have kept others from vandalizing his art. He has, though, been questioned by state security agents about work they considered overtly political.

In this Feb. 9, 2017 photo, urban artist Yulier P. paints on a wall in Old Havana, Cuba. The works of the 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez Pérez, are striking not just for their artistry and ubiquity, but the fact that they exist at all in a place where graffiti is rare. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) © The Associated Press In this Feb. 9, 2017 photo, urban artist Yulier P. paints on a wall in Old Havana, Cuba. The works of the 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez Pérez, are striking not just for their artistry and ubiquity, but the fact that they exist at all in a place where graffiti is rare. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

"It's not that I'm against the system," he said. "I am in favor of a system that works for the people ... the good and the bad are aspects of the truth."

In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, work of urban artist Yulier P. adorns a wall on a street in Havana, Cuba. The canvas of the The 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez, consists of walls, usually rough, peeling, on buildings or houses that seem to be collapsing or have been abandoned. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa) © The Associated Press In this Feb. 12, 2017 photo, work of urban artist Yulier P. adorns a wall on a street in Havana, Cuba. The canvas of the The 27-year-old artist, whose full name is Yulier Rodríguez, consists of walls, usually rough, peeling, on buildings or houses that seem to be collapsing or have been abandoned. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

He has not catalogued his paintings, which typically take about 40 minutes to complete, but estimates that he's done around 150, mostly in Havana.

The works are often welcomed by people in Havana as a diversion from the sometimes drab cityscape.

Osmel Ochoa, a 40-year resident of the rundown section of Old Havana known as Belen, is an admirer. "It's a new style for me but people enjoy it in inhospitable places," said Ochoa. "They should be everywhere."

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