Genitals in the Wild: Havana’s Instituto Superior de Arte Edition

Recently I had the opportunity to travel under general license to Havana, Cuba. While there, I had the good fortune of visiting Havana’s Instito Superior de Arte – basically, an art institute and school. The Moon guide we had with us included an interesting description of ISA:

“The school was designed by three young “rebel” architects: Italians Roberto Gottardi and Vittorio Garatti, and Cuban Ricardo Porro. Porro’s art school was a deliberate evocation of the female form complete with fountain shaped as a mamey, or papaya—an overt reference to the female vulva. As the five main buildings emerged, they were thought too sensual, too avant-garde for grim Communist tastes. The project was halted, though the school did open. The ghostly complex fell into ruin, with long tentacles of branches and roots creeping into the buildings. Amazingly, in 2001 the Cuban government approached the three architects and asked them to complete the project. Restoration was completed in 2009.”

Now, if you’re a regular reader of MSP or if you are familiar with my work (highlights include studies on female genital self-image, pubic hair grooming, lubricant use, vibrator use, and so on; also, I have a forthcoming vagina/vulva book called “Read My Lips”, co-authored with a friend/colleague), you must know that I couldn’t resist finding this “fountain shaped as a mamey” – a genital in the wild!

Once at ISA, I asked – in my not very good Spanish – where the mamey was. The man and woman at ISA seemed confused. My friends, who are proficient in Spanish. then tried their best. I couldn’t believe that no one knew where this unusual fountain was but because the grounds were so expansive I couldn’t imagine walking throughout them in search of this fountain, which as far as I knew could be big or small. Then I decided to just go for it – I asked for “la vagina”, embarrassing those with me. However, the woman at ISA smiled and said “la vagina!” in recognition and then pointed the way to the building where we soon found it.

Above is a photo of the vagina/vulva fountain with my head as the clitoris. Once we met with ISA’s students and instructors, we spoke with them about the building which has other female forms as well (the roof tops look like breasts). One of the male students said “Here, we are in the clitoris!” It was one of my favorite moments in Cuba.

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About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at

  • Kate

    I LOVE that photo Debby! Viva la vagina!

    This reminds me an experience I had with my mom several years ago while we were in London. We were trying to find the theatre where Vagina Monologues was playing and kept asking people, “Do you know where X theatre is?” Them:”Hmmm, what’s playing there?” Me:”The Vagina Monologues.” Them:”(uncomfortable cough) Um, no. Can’t say I know that one.” I think we embarrassed about ten people before we found it.