Revitalizing Cuban Design, One Chair at a Time

How a crew of Havan-based designers are using recycled materials to show the world what their country's art is made of.

Raiko Valladares and Jose A Villa with their VIBRA chairs

Cuban designers must be particularly resourceful. Since the U.S. imposed its restrictive trade and travel embargo on the Caribbean country in the 1960s, its artists have had unique difficulty obtaining working materials. So Havana-based designers Raiko Valladares and Jose A. Villa turned to components that were not in short supply: construction steel.

“These materials are common in our country due to its widespread use,” they write in an email. “Therefore [it] is relative easy access [to] their cuts.”

The result: VIBRA chairs, visual interpretations of the Cuban music scene. Made of the recycled steel and red, blue, and green elastic—the only colored elastic, the designers say, that is currently available in Cuba—the chairs are meant to evoke string instruments.

Two chairs in the VIBRA collection: "Emptiness" (left) and "Box" (right)

"Our main purpose is to show what can be done with design in Cuba, and that with common materials and without particularly sophisticated resources, new shapes can be accomplished,” the designers told Dezeen Magazine.

The Obama administration has pressed the U.S. Congress to lift the trade embargo on Cuba, following the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two nations last year. If the administration succeeds, the next VIBRA chairs could look a little different.

“Even when we are interested in using recycled material, we know that chairs would look more resistant, durable, and lightweight if we could use materials of a better quality,” Valladares and Villa write.

The VIBRA chairs will be on display in Havana for the 12th Bienal de La Habana International Art Exhibition until August 30.

The third chair in the Vibra collection, "Duet"

Screenshot via (left) Wikimedia Commons (right)

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