art projects & residency


UNPACK STUDIO is an independent platform for artistic collaboration based in Toronto, Canada. It is aimed at coordinating and curating contemporary art projects.

Our mandate is to provide a context for aesthetic research developed in the cultural, linguistic and political articulations of knowledge, particularly reflecting on the understandings of migration, race, gender and power. We are interested in investigations aimed at exploring the conceptual intersections and points of rupture of these definitions.

We seek to potentiate artworks that reflect on the negotiations that discrete concepts and fields of knowledge are subjected to when extrapolated to other cultural spaces or disciplines, whether through life experience or research. Our objective is to promote the work of artists and curators that question the validity of definitions as absolutes, in light of the trans-disciplinary nature of contemporary thinking.



The UNPACK STUDIO Havana Art Residency program is open to visual artists, curators and researchers. The self-directed residency runs from three to seven weeks and comprises of independent workdays, meetings with an internationally recognized Art Contact and possible presentations at art institutions in Havana.

The artist can create local-foreign collaborations, interact with contemporary Cuban practitioners and give Cuban art students the opportunity to see diverse practices. Creatives can research, produce new work individually or in collaboration, network with artists, art students, galleries, curators, and explore Havana.

Unpack Studio residency in Cuba is strategically situated in Vedado, a central and popular neighbourhood of Havana, with easy access to all areas of the city (view map). There is walking distance access to food markets, stores, internet wifi spots, jazz bars, swimming pools, art galleries, cinemas and theatres.

* Read more about our residency program
in this link

Blogging from Havana

Cuba report. Mayu Shirai @UNPACK

I stayed in Cuba for around one month from August 13th to September 14thAfter staying in NYC for 2 years, I decided to stop by Cuba before going back to Japan. I had 3 reasons why I wanted to stay in Cuba:

I wanted to see the real social dance culture in Cuba.

I like street dance (especially I like house dance), I believe street dance is from social dance, people jamming and share their vibes. But currently I saw the dancer who don’t share the energy in dance party, they just show their technique, and I feel they miss something… In NY and Japan, I always thought I wanted to know what social dance is, why we dance socially, what’s the spirituality of that?

I researched about social dance history, and I am interested in Cuban dance culture, their music and dance culture is exactly what I wanted to see. I thought THIS IS IT.

I also wanted to practice by myself, and find my own dance style, because I just finished a dance program in NY before coming to Cuba, and my brain was just packed with so much information, I just needed to take time for myself to digest every information I absorbed in NYC and think about who I am as an artist.

I wanted to see people’s culture.

I am originally from Japan, I jumped out of Japan 2 years ago because I was just tired of the culture that is so stressful. I thought people need something creative, because their life is so much working, and they don’t have time to enjoy themselves.

I decided I really wanna create the place through dancing for people just express and feel who they are. In Cuba, people’s life is close to culture like music, dance and art. The life is not tensed like Japan. I wanted to see the people’s life and their life value.

Cuba is a perfect place for me, limited internet, limited food, everything very limited…

My life is getting so simple in Cuba, just dance, eat, and sleep.. that’s ii!

I feel like Cuba is a temple, very meditative place, and I can concentrate on myself.

My life routine was:

Wake up morninggoing to local café, drinking strong coffee, talk with 2 moms who work in cafe, and learn Spanishstart practice

 by myself with the dance notes I took in NYC (like contemporary, modern, ballet, and street dance’s isolation)taking Cuban dance class like Rumba, Mambo, Cha cha cha, Son, and Salsadance practice againgoing to café and study Spanish and write down about my danceeat dinner in local restaurant go to salsa party at night.

In Cuba I have to feel relax, because so many things are unscheduled and so many unpredicted things happen, and that makes my life excited and happy. I think life should not be structured much, because life is destiny, we have so many interactions with others everyday, we don’t know what happens tomorrow, or even in 1 hour. Just be open our mind, and allow to be myself, and enjoy the destiny.

In NY and Japan, I was such a structured person, I like to make schedules every hour or every minutes, that makes my opportunities limited, we need to be flexible, try to be open always.

Mayu Shirai with Cuban family

‘Tranquila!’ the word always I heard in Cuba means don’t worry or calm down.

They always said that word and made me relax.

Now I really believe life is simple, just do what we need, and be relax.

Cuban life is not rich, but they have a very warm mentality to satisfy their life.

I was afraid to go back to Japan, but the life in Cuba makes me relaxed, I don’t need to think too much, not structure too much, just be calm and do what I want, and then my time will come.

That is the things I learned in Cuban life! 

Havana Sea
Havana Sea

As dance aspect

I learned a lot dancing.

Especially I was so amazed by their dance culture, I always went to dance parties at Hotel Florida or 1830, and I tried to explore the dance culture in Cuba, exactly almost all Cuban people can dance, the people who can’t dance well is tourist. And they enjoy dancing and communicating through dancing!! It is not just showing their technique, more sharing energy and more sensual.

People believe more instinctual feeling rather than just practicing count or bunch of steps, people looks learn dance from party or practical dance communication in dance party. The energy is so warm, happy, not competitive.

Dance party video at 1830 

I also explored Cuban dance through studying dance classes. Each music like rumba music, son, salsa, is very different sensation, and the idea is very interesting for me. The count is especially interesting part, in each music style, the strength of the count is different, and I realize even just changing the strength of the count, the dance looks so different. And even in dance class, dance is from instinct, not thinking too much, just dance and feel it, body already know the beat, I feel like that.

Cuban Percussion Class

Even just practicing by myself, I always try to move whatever I want to and follow my instincts. 

Mayu with Rumba teacher
Mayu with Rumba teacher

In NYC, I do street dance and modern dance. Although some people said dancer have to concentrate on 1 style, I don’t think so. Dance is dance, why we have to separate it, just absorb what we want and just explore and move how I want. Art is myself, I am not gonna be 1 specific style dancer, I am just dancer, artist, I don’t wanna be structured dancer. I create my dance,  Just DANCE and show my ART.

Concentrating on my dance everyday is a wonderfully lonely experience, I love that.

And the most important things I learned in Cuba is how universal sense (humanity) is important and how cultural difference is important. I have cultural shocks in Cuba, but I also feel universal sense and humanity in Cuba.

People surrounding me in Cuba are very beautiful, of course our language, back ground is different, but definitely we are same human.

After Irma Hurricane

I really feel that when the hurricane ‘Irma’ came, we didn’t have water, no electricity and no information for around 4 days, but people treat me so well, even my Spanish level is infant, they try to understand what I am saying and just be with me. I was so amazed how people is strong even after disaster came, people know how to share the food, help each other and know how to enjoy their life even after disaster.

I, Japanese, we are a developed country but every time just busy for our planned life, and if they are out of the plan, people can’t deal with that.  I feel that people should re-understand we are human, we are not robots, we should be flexible and try to feel others and be cooperative always. Cuba is not like Japan, they are humans.

Through this hurricane disaster, I really realize we humans are beautiful, we have same universal humanity and we never forget about that.

Irma Hurricane hitting Havana
Irma Hurricane hitting Havana

I decided I really want to exchange and collaborate more with international artists to make sure we have universal human sense. We also have cultural differences, but that is interesting part in the world, because without culture and art, human life is so boring, we are not robot.

Through staying Cuba, I thought artist should collaborate and make new chemistry.

I definitely will come back to Cuba to collaborate with artists!!

My journey never stop!

This is the video I made in CUBA, I write Poetry, speak and dance.

Mayu Shirai
Mayu Shirai

Thanks Unpack Studio for allowing me to stay!

YOU GUYS really help me! And changed my life!

Special Thanks to Laura! (The girl who is in CUBA), we are already nice friends as artist too.

I am so excited to collaborate with her too!!


Aimee Suzara @Unpack Studio

As I’m a writer, this blog was very difficult to begin, not because I didn’t know what to write, but because I have too much to say. This was my fourth time to Cuba, but only my second to La Habana, and certainly the longest stretch I had spent in the country. With so many… Read Full Post

Dana Moody Art Residency in Cuba

My experience with Unpack Studio Havana Art Residency far exceeded my expectations! As a professor in Interior Architecture and Design at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, I came to Havana to document Cuban architecture and current preservation practices, both through meeting with and interviewing preservationist professionals and by creating a photographic documentary series. I… Read Full Post

Catherine Beaudette @UNPACK Havana

Unpack Studio, 7 y C, Vedado, Habana April 2017  Week 1  I arrive in a heat wave so hot I will need a coping strategy. I rent a bike that’s too expensive and realize I should have bought one to donate to Unpack. Oh well, I am happy to be freewheeling through the colourful streets… Read Full Post

Kern Saunders @Unpack Studio in Havana

Cuba felt like home but with its unique twist. I’m a visual artist hailing from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago… So being introduced to my Caribbean cousins was, in short, an experience like none other. The people are some of the warmest hearts I’ve felt. Starting with Omar Alberto, the ever smiling daily coordinator… Read Full Post

Norman Barney @Unpack Studio

My name is Norman Barney, from Ontario, Canada. I just returned home from a short fifteen day stay at the Unpack Studio Artist Residency in Havana, Cuba. I have had two residencies at the Banff Centre last fall (2016) as well as the spring residency in 2015. Having gone to Cuba now and then for… Read Full Post

Beau Coleman @Havana Art Residency

  January 12th Almost a couple of weeks in Cuba and I feel like I’m just starting to get into the island rhythm.   There’s a lot to adjust to here, but what I’ve enjoyed most is the warmth of the people I’ve met and the simple day to day moments of life, whether it be… Read Full Post

Laura Barron Havana Art Residency

I am a photo-based artist. I’ve been working on a long-term project that involves travelling in Latin America. I have participated in numerous artist residency programs while pursuing this project, but my experience at Unpack Studio Havana Art Residency has been my favourite. I’m Mexican, but I have a long personal history with Cuba. I… Read Full Post

Jennifer Ray @UNPACK Havana

Upon my arrival to Havana, it quickly became clear that Cuba is not an easy place to navigate for a foreigner, much less if you don’t speak Spanish. During my stay at Unpack Studio Havana Art Residency  they arranged studio visits with artists’ whose work was relevant to my own, planned excursions outside of the city, and… Read Full Post