CubaBrief: “Alcántara, an artist in prison” exhibition opens. Poetry reading and vigil for jailed Cuban artists in NYC. Joint statement against censoring Cuban artists.

Today, Friday, April 22nd at 6:30pm in Miami at The Art Space at I’ve Been Framed (733 SW 8 St Miami, FL 33130 ) will premiere a new exhibition “Alcántara, an artist in prison” curated by Claudia Genlui. The exhibition is supported by Bacardi, El Espacio 23 and I’ve Been Framed.

Piece from the series ‘Puertas’ [Doors]; Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara (IMAGE Facebook / Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara)

It highlights some of the work of Cuban artivist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. Luis Manuel has been jailed since July 11, 2021, the day nonviolent protests broke out across Cuba. He is being held in the maximum security prison in Guanajay in Cuba. On April 7th it was learned that the dictatorship wants to condemn Luis Manuel to seven years in prison to silence him, and serve as a warning to others. His Crime? Defending artistic freedom in Cuba, and being one of the founders of the San Isidro Movement that was created for that purpose. This is why Amnesty International designated Luis Manuel a prisoner of conscience.

Other Cuban artists are jailed, and the international community is taking notice. Artists at Risk Connection made public a joint statement against the censorship of Cuban artists.

“65 organizations and 79 artists on April 21, 2022 shared a message of solidarity – launched by PAR – a protection network for at-risk artists in Latin America and the Caribbean – with Maykel “El Osorbo” Castillo Pérez, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, and all those who remain unjustly detained and charged for exercising their right to freedom of expression in Cuba.”

On Thursday, April 21st, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection, together with PEN International, hosted a poetry reading and vigil in Times Square’s Duffy Square (Broadway at 46th Street) in New York City, highlighting the plight of imprisoned artists in Cuba. It was held at an installation inspired by the late Cuban poet and Castro regime opponent Reinaldo Arenas.

Daytime photos by Maria Baranova; nighttime photos by Michael Hull.

Times Square Arts, described the artist who created the installation Raúl Cordero, and how Reinaldo Arenas served as an inspiration.

“In the center of Times Square’s urban landscape, Cuban-born artist Raúl Cordero creates an unexpected oasis — a 20-foot tower covered in a cascade of mountain laurel hosting an illuminated poem inside.”… ” Cordero’s project is also inspired by and dedicated to fellow Cuban and poet Reinaldo Arenas, an exile of the Cuban government who battled AIDS which led to death by suicide in 1990. As a child, Arenas would write poems while sitting in a tree, a pastime that inspired the height and foliage feel of Cordero’s installation. Arenas spent his final years as a creative in New York City, living only two blocks away from THE POEM’s location.”

Artists at Risk Connection, April 21, 2022

Advocacy & News

We say NO to the Censorship of Cuban Artists

Joint letter

65 organizations and 79 artists share a message of solidarity – launched by PAR – a protection network for at-risk artists in Latin America and the Caribbean – with Maykel “El Osorbo” Castillo Pérez, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, and all those who remain unjustly detained and charged for exercising their right to freedom of expression in Cuba.

The undersigned organizations and artists strongly condemn the unsubstantiated and outrageous charges relating to alleged contempt, defamation, and public disorder brought against Cuban artists Maykel “El Osorbo” Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, for which prosecutors have requested the punishment of ten and seven years imprisonment, respectively. We call on the Cuban government to drop these charges, release Castillo Pérez and Otero Alcántara, and put an immediate end to the constant harassment and abuse of artists.

Maykel Castillo won two Latin Grammys for his song Patria y Vida, which criticizes the Cuban government and became a viral anthem during the mass protests in July 2021. Otero Alcántara has become a prominent dissident voice through his powerful performance art. Both artists are members of the San Isidro Movement, a collective that has staged various protests against the government, leading to intense state surveillance. As a result of their art and activism, Castillo Pérez and Otero Alcántara have faced a sustained campaign of harassment and persecution since 2016. Most recently, Castillo Pérez was arrested on May 18 after the success of Patria y Vida, while Otero Alcántara was detained on July 11 following his participation in mass demonstrations during the July 2021 protests. Both have remained incarcerated in maximum security prisons ever since. 

A formal court order initiating an oral trial was issued on March 8, 2022. The charges against Otero Alcántara include “insults to symbols of the homeland,” “contempt,” and “public disorder,” and the charges against Castillo Pérez include “contempt,” “public disorder,” “defamation of institutions and organizations and of heroes and martyrs,” and “assault.” The Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America, PEN International, and CADAL have reviewed legal documents showing that the Prosecutor’s Office issued their sentencing request of ten years’ imprisonment for Castillo Pérez and seven years for Otero Alcántara.

A review of the charges against both artists makes it clear that they are being targeted for their peaceful exercise of their right to free expression. Their alleged criminal conduct includes using the Cuban flag in a series of photos, writing an offensive social media post, criticizing government officials, and posting memes about Cuba’s head of state. The cases against both artists are an obvious attempt to criminalize their art and their opinions. The goal of these charges has never been to administer justice nor to allow for free and fair discourse on issues of concern for the Cuban people, but to surveil, harass, detain, and silence those critical of the government.

These cases are part of the Cuban government’s broader campaign to intimidate, silence, and imprison artists and other creatives who dare to criticize them–a campaign marked by repression and human rights violations. Since the historic protests on July 11, 2021, Cuban authorities have pursued a series of unjust trials against those who took to the streets, many of whom are artists.

At least 39 artists were detained on July 11, and three were sentenced on charges of contempt: musician Abel Lescay, rapper-singer Randy Arteaga, and writer and poet María Cristina Garrido. The tactics employed by the authorities against dissenters–surveillance, harassment, detention, and silence–are both apparent and clearly abusive.

Castillo Pérez and Otero Alcántara were first arrested on May 18 and July 11, 2021, respectively, and remain in detention as their trial progresses. The long-term detention and extreme harsh conditions have taken a grave toll on their mental and physical well-being. Both Castillo Pérez and Otero Alcántara have faced worsening health conditions that require immediate medical attention. Following his most recent hunger strike in protest against his unjust imprisonment and the manipulation of his freedom by state security, Otero Alcántara told his family that he “suffered paralysis and had to be rushed to hospital.” His partner said his condition has worsened and he finds himself at “constant risk.” Castillo Pérez’s health has also drastically deteriorated as he awaits the results of a second biopsy conducted due to swelling in his throat and lymph nodes

The Cuban government’s pursuit of criminal charges against both artists is not justice–it is oppression. We demand that the authorities drop all charges against both Maykel “El Osorbo” Castillo Pérez and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, and immediately release them from detention. We further call on the Cuban government to cease the harassment and threats against journalists, writers, and artists on the island, and to respect and guarantee international human rights law as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments. 

Signatories

Organizations

  • Acción Constitucional

  • ARTICLE 19 México y Centroamérica

  • Artist Protection Fund

  • Artistic Freedom Initiative

  • Artists At Risk Connection (ARC)

  • ArtsEverywhere

  • Auckland PEN

  • Berlin Opus Cuba

  • Cadal

  • Center for a Free Cuba

  • CIVICUS

  • Civil Rights Defenders

  • Cubalex

  • Cultura democrática

  • Democracy Council

  • Demóngeles, colectivo de artistas

  • Dansk PEN

  • Di.Verso

  • English PEN

  • Fondo de Acción Urgente para América Latina y el Caribe

  • Freedom House

  • Fundamedios

  • Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo a la Declaración

  • Fundación Acceso- Shelter City Cost a Rica

  • Grupo Ánima, colectivo de artistas

  • Human Rights Foundation

  • Hypermedia

  • Irish PEN

  • Independence Chinese PEN

  • INSTAR (Instituto de Artivismo Hannah Arendt)

  • International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights

  • Movies that Matter

  • Movimiento de San Isidro

  • New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa (PEN NZ) Inc

  • PEN America

  • PEN Argentina

  • PEN Austria

  • PEN Brazil

  • PEN Canada

  • PEN Catalan

  • PEN Centre of Bosnia & Herzegovina

  • PEN Chiapas Pluricultural

  • PEN Chile

  • PEN Club de Escritores Cubanos en el Exilio

  • PEN Ecuador

  • PEN Eritrea

  • PEN Guatemala

  • PEN International

  • PEN Kenya

  • PEN Nigeria

  • PEN Norway

  • PEN Paraguay

  • PEN Perth

  • PEN Quebec

  • PEN Turkey

  • PEN Uruguay

  • PEN Zimbabwe

  • Philippine PEN

  • Prisoners Defenders

  • Provea – Programa Venezolano de Educación Acción en Derechos Humano

  • Rialta, Alianza Iberoamericana para la Literatura, las Artes y el Pensamiento, A.C

  • San Miguel PEN

  • Swedish PEN

  • Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

Individuals

  • Lucía Leonor González Enriquez, performing artist

  • Patricio Villarreal Ávila, performing artist

  • Abu Abu Duyanah Tamayo, autor

  • Luis Dener, writer

  • Ariel Maceo Tellez, writer, poet and photographer

  • Jennifer Clement, writer, former President of PEN International

  • Gabriel Seisdedos, writer, Board Member of PEN International

  • Coco Fusco, visual artist

  • José Antonio Albertini, former President of PEN Cuban Writers in Exile

  • Christopher Merrill, University of Iowa

  • Alexis Romay, writer

  • Maria Matienzo, writer

  • Nonardo Perea, visual artist

  • Celia González, visual artist

  • Ileana Diéguez, writer

  • Yanelys Nuñez, art historian

  • Armando Chaguaceda, political scientist

  • Sara Martinez Castro, writer

  • Ladislao Aguado, Hypermedia’s editor

  • Carolina Barrero, historian

  • Tania Bruguera, visual artist

  • Anamely Ramos, art curator

  • Carlos Manuel Álvarez, writer

  • Rubén Chababo, cultural professional

  • Pablo César Rebollo, artist and professor

  • LeAnne Russell Rasco, filmmaker

  • Camila Ramirez Lobon, visual artist

  • Claudia Genlui Hidalgo, art curator and activist

  • Rafael Mondragón Velázquez, philologist

  • Eliezer Márquez Duany, (“el Funky”), musician

  • Ernesto Rojas Reyes, musician

  • Natalie Morales, actress and filmmaker

  • Alex Fumero, filmmaker

  • Amilkar Feria Flores, writer and visual artist

  • Solveig Font Martinez, art curator

  • Julios Llopiz Casal, visual artist

  • Miguel Yasser Castellanos Guerrero, visual artist

  • Ileana Botalin, designer

  • Javier Caso, artist

  • Richard Zamora (“el Radikal”), musician

  • Osvaldo Navarro Veloz (“NavyPro”), musician

  • Luis Alberto Mariño, violinist and performance artist

  • Ileana Diéguez, researcher

  • Salvador Pérez Franco, artist

  • Henry Eric Hernández, artist

  • Roberto Garcés Marrero, researcher

  • Lester Alvarez Meno, artist

  • Maria de Lourdes Mariño, art curator

  • Maribel Garcia González, interpreter and manager

  • Maria Matienzo, writer

  • Juan Enrique González, visual artist

  • Michel Estopiñán, researcher

  • Maria del Carmen Ares Marrero, playwright

  • Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard, activist and scientific

  • Osmani Pardo Guerra, activist

  • Esteban Rodriguez López, journalist and activist

  • Jorge Luis Capote Arias, activist

  • Iliana Hernández Cardosa, journalist

  • Omara Isabel Ruiz Urquiola, academic

  • Evelyn Rodriguez de Villafuerte, psychologist

  • Eisbel Rojas, computer scientist

  • Alenmichel Aguiló, academic

  • Eduardo Testé Lino, researcher

  • Rubén Ortíz, theater artist and researcher

  • Gabriela Selser, journalist

  • Regula Venske, writer, Board Member of PEN International

  • Salil Tripathi, author and editor, Board Member of PEN International

  • David Francis, author and lawyer, Board Member of PEN International

  • Iman Humaydan, writer and activist, Board Member of PEN International

  • Ola Larsmo, writer, Board Member of PEN International

  • Danson Kahyana, writer, Board Member of PEN International

  • Eric Lax, writer, treasurer and Vice President of PEN International

  • Elisha July, writer, President of PEN Zimbabwe

  • Ricky Monahan Brown, writer, President of Scottish PEN

  • Helmuth A. Niederle, writer, President PEN Austria

  • Lien Carrazana Lau, writer, artist and journalist, Diario de Cuba

  • Katherine Bisquet, poet and editor

  • Hamlet Labastida, visual artist

  • Carlos Anibal Alonso, writer and editor

https://artistsatriskconnection.org/story/we-say-no-to-the-censorship-of-cuban-artists

Times Square Arts, March 22, 2022

THE POEM

April 8 – May 4, 2022

Raúl Cordero

Duffy Square (Broadway at 46th Street)

Events Celebrating The Poem:

  • Friday, April 8, 2–3pm: Public unveiling

  • Thursday, April 21, 6–7pm: Poetry reading, hosted by PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection with PEN International

  • Friday, April 22, 6–7pm: Poetry reading, hosted by LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs

  • Thursday, April 28, 6–7pm: Poetry reading, hosted by Barry Schwabsky

  • Friday, April 29, 6–7pm: Poetry reading, hosted by Paolo Javier

See more details

In the center of Times Square’s urban landscape, Cuban-born artist Raúl Cordero creates an unexpected oasis — a 20-foot tower covered in a cascade of mountain laurel hosting an illuminated poem inside. The landscaped structure is designed to narrow the sensory overload of Times Square to a concentrated line of vision, drawing the eye to a patch of open sky and the words of the poem overhead. Playing with the architecture and energy of Times Square, Cordero offers us a respite from the attention economy in the form of poetry and nature.

Written by poet and educator Barry Schwabsky and created specifically for Cordero’s Times Square installation, the characters of the poem take shape through glowing bulbs of black light affixed to the interior of the foliage. The structure of the letters forces viewers to linger longer to receive the message — emblematic of Cordero’s ongoing investigation into effects of the digital age on the human mind, specifically our waning ability to focus and the increasing urge to relentlessly multitask.

Cordero’s project is also inspired by and dedicated to fellow Cuban and poet Reinaldo Arenas, an exile of the Cuban government who battled AIDS which led to death by suicide in 1990. As a child, Arenas would write poems while sitting in a tree, a pastime that inspired the height and foliage feel of Cordero’s installation. Arenas spent his final years as a creative in New York City, living only two blocks away from THE POEM’s location.

“It’s difficult to create meaningful art for people in an era when their attention is scattered across so many mediums and technologies simultaneously. THE POEM seeks to stop time, reminding us that humans also have the capacity to invest in one thing at a time — like listen to ‘the secret dialogue of trees’ (as put poetically by Reinaldo Arenas) and read a poem, even when standing in the center of Times Square.”
— Raúl Cordero

In conjunction with the project, Cordero will be presenting text-based video works across digital billboards, and free public programming on the ground featuring New York City’s diverse poetry community. Throughout the run of the exhibition, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Paolo Javier, Barry Schwabsky, and PEN America will each curate evenings of poetry readings and live performance celebrating THE POEM and local poets.

Details on upcoming events in conjunction with THE POEM, taking place on Duffy Square:

Thursday, April 21, 6-7pm
PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) and PEN International will host readings from poets Jaime Manrique, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, Eloisa Amezcua, and Maya Popa, closing with a vigil in solidarity and support for artists targeted by political persecution in Cuba.

Friday April 22, 6-7:30pm
This night will feature a series of performances hosted by poet and sound artist LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs. Diggs is the author of TwERK (Belladonna, 2013) and has performed at California Institute of the Arts, El Museo del Barrio, The Museum of Modern Art, and Walker Art Center. The night includes readings from Peggy Robles-Alvarado, Christina Olivares, Moncho Alvarado and a performance from celebrated singer and producer keiyaA.

Thursday, April 28, 6-7pm
An evening hosted by Barry Schwabsky, poet and Art Critic at The Nation. A poem composed by the writer is featured along the walls of the interior of THE POEM. In addition to Schwabsky, the night will feature readings from poets Monica de la Torre, John Yau, and Erica Hunt.

Friday April 29th, 6-7pm
The lineup of programming concludes with an event emceed by former Queens Borough Poet Laureate Paolo Javier, to be broadcast live by Montez Press Radio (Thomas Laprade and Stacy Skolnik). The night will feature performances by Montez Press, comedic performer Morgan Bassichis, poet/curator Paolo Javier and electronic artist Listening Center (aka David Mason), and writer and artist Miatta Kawinzi.

THE POEM coincides with Cordero’s solo show at Richard Taittinger Gallery, HEAVEN IS A PLACE IN THE MIND, on view through April 24.

THE POEM is commissioned by Times Square Arts with generous support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and in part through support from Morgan Stanley, the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

ABOUT RAUL CORDERO

Known for his large format blurry paintings with dotted texts and his endless investigation into the structure and language of an artwork, Raúl Cordero (Havana, 1971) has successfully merged figurative painting and text-based conceptual art throughout his career. Exhibiting in museums and galleries around the world, while establishing a very personal universe that explores the visual manifestation of language and investigates the cognitive links between “looking at” and “reading” art.

Cordero’s work can be seen in public collections around the world, including the Musée National D’Art Moderne Centre Pompidou in Paris, France; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles (MOCA), The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, The Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) and the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, in the United States of America; El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, in Cuba; The Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (SMAK) in Gent, Belgium; El Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno (CAAM) and Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo (MEIAC) in Spain; among many others. Cordero’s work is represented by Mai 36 Galerie in Zürich, Switzerland, Fredric Snitzer Gallery in Miami, and Richard Taittinger Gallery in New York, U.S.A.

Daytime photos by Maria Baranova; nighttime photos by Michael Hull.