Cuba is a republic in the Caribbean, known for producing high-quality cigars. Less known is its unique culture that is an amalgamation of African, Spanish and North American influences.
The observant can, however, find such elements in its food, music and art.
The Cuban Embassy in Malaysia gives Malaysians a taste of the unique blend of its culture through Casa Cuba, an exhibition gallery in Bukit Peringgit, here.
The gallery, built in June 2007, is located inside what was a former senior government officer's residence during the British rule. It is one of Malacca's historical sites.
The Second Secretary (Political Affairs) at the Cuban Embassy in Malaysia, Nestor Tores, told Bernama that Casa Cuba had an important role in introducing Malaysians to Cuban culture.
The gallery showcases various forms of art by Cuban artists, including paintings, lithographs and ceramic works.
Tores said the embassy features over 80 works of renowned Cuban artists, including Nelson Dominguez and Belkis Ayon Manso.
Belkis was a Cuban artist and lithographer whose work was based on the Afro-Cuban religion, combining the myth of Sikan and the traditions of the Abakua, a men's secret society. The artist committed suicide in September 1999, at the age of 32.
Since her death, the Cuban government declared her work a patrimony, and hence, none of it was allowed to leave the country.
"Thus, it is a privilege that her works were allowed to be brought to Malaysia, to be featured in the exhibition," said Tores.
The main exhibition hall features many paintings, including portraits of Cuban President Fidel Castro, and pictures of young people playing baseball, one of the popular sports in the republic.
Besides paintings, the gallery also features many forms of prints. An interesting exhibit features prints on silk.
"In Malaysia, one of the favorite traditional arts on textile is batik, usually printed on silk. It's also similar in Cuba, where prints on silk are one of the most popular traditional arts," said Tores.
He said the gallery also featured miniatures depicting life in Cuba. Among them are those depicting the environment in a traditional cigar factory, and popular Cuban pastimes.
When asked why Melaka was chosen as the venue for Casa Cuba, Tores said it was simply because Melaka was a well-developed tourist attraction.
He hopes that the establishment of Casa Cuba in Melaka will bring more local and foreign visitors to the gallery, and interest them in the republic.
Tores said that besides introducing Cuban culture, the gallery was also where the embassy organized various activities to create closer ties between Cuba and Malaysia.
"We are thankful to the Melaka government for helping us bring more tourists to the gallery, so that they can learn more about Cuba," he said.
Melaka's Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam, said there were many historical buildings in Bukit Peringgit. Most of them were from the colonial era, and would make interesting tourist sites.
"If it were possible, I would like all embassies in the country to set up their 'casa' here. Besides setting up a gallery, they could also organise many interesting programmes to introduce their country. It would then be appropriate for this area to be known as 'Bukit Antarabangsa'," he added.
He said, Casa Cuba was an initiative to forge closer ties between Malaysians and Cubans through cultural exchange.
Casa Cuba is open on weekdays from 9am to 5pm.