Artists Demand Release of Artist Detained as a Political Prisoner in Cuba

Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida in 2019. (courtesy of Coco Fusco)

Sixty-one Cuban intellectuals and cultural figures, including Tania Bruguera and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, have signed an open letter demanding the release of artist Hamlet Lavastida, detained in Havana this weekend upon his return from a residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. The artist is currently held at Villa Marista, the notorious maximum-security prison known for holding political prisoners.

“We condemn the criminalization of Hamlet Lavastida by the Cuban government. He is a Cuban citizen and artist who has done nothing more than exercise his constitutional right to express himself,” says the letter, reproduced in its entirety below.

According to Katherine Bisquet, a Cuban writer and poet who has been following the case, Lavastida was apprehended on Saturday, June 26, at the government center where he was completing a quarantine period imposed on travelers coming from abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The artist was detained on charges of “instigation to commit a crime” based on a private Telegram chat conversation of the 27N Movement, an activist group advocating for freedom of expression in Cuba.

In the messages, which were leaked and discussed on national television, Lavastida comments on an unrealized artistic project that would consist of marking high denomination bills with the symbols of 27N and the related Movimiento San Isidro (MSI). The concept is reminiscent of similar works made in the 1970s and 80s, such as Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles’s “Insertions into Ideological Circuits,” in which he stamped official banknotes with subversive messages before returning them to circulation.

But in Lavastida’s case, the open letter says, “that suggestion was never carried out by any of the members of the chat group, nor was it made public until Cuban television commentator Humberto Lopez revealed this private communication on national television.”

The authors go on to express their outrage over the Cuban state’s surveillance tactics, the accusations against Lavastida, and “fundamentally, the fact that an exchange of ideas and the exercise of imagination are qualified as a crime by the Cuban government, resulting in a citizen being prosecuted for exercising what should be citizens’ rights.”

Lavastida’s work, which spans photography, collage, printmaking, video, and archival practices, often focuses on the institutionalization of socialism in Cuba. In the artist’s words, his aim is to create “a symbolic archive, a linguistic archive, or an iconographic archive” of the circumstances surrounding the Cuban Revolution and its aftermath.

Read the open letter in full, below:

June 30, 2021

Today is the 60th anniversary of the “Words to Intellectuals” speech that set the parameters for creative expression in Cuba. In 2009, artist Hamlet Lavastida created a work he titled “Intellectuals without words” as a commentary on the conditions in which Cubans have been forced to create for six decades.

We are artists and intellectuals who have decided to unite our voices for one purpose. These are our words.

We condemn the criminalization of Hamlet Lavastida by the Cuban government. He is a Cuban citizen and artist who has done nothing more than exercise his constitutional right to express himself.

Although Hamlet is today a target of aggression by the Cuban state, we understand that the criminalization of his thoughts, private conversations and art constitutes an attack on all Cuban artists and citizens.

We demand that the Cuban government release him and drop the fabricated charge against him. Hamlet is being held at the Villa Marista State Security Instruction Unit under investigation for alleged “instigation to commit a crime”. According to the state media outlet Razones de Cuba, “he has been inciting and calling for civil disobedience actions in public, using social networks and direct influence on other counterrevolutionary elements”. The alleged evidence used against him comes from a suggestion he made in a private chat group for Cuban banknotes to be marked as a public art gesture. That suggestion was never carried out by any of the members of the chat group, nor was it made public until Cuban television commentator Humberto Lopez revealed this private communication on national television. 

We are outraged by the violation of the privacy of citizens, the unjust accusations against our colleague and, fundamentally, the fact that an exchange of ideas and the exercise of imagination are qualified as a crime by the Cuban government, resulting in a citizen being prosecuted for exercising what should be citizens’ rights. What the Cuban government calls civil disobedience (a category that includes criticism of the government itself and the organization of civic campaigns) is not subject to repression in a democratic Republic. We cannot tolerate such an egregious incursion into human rights.

We refuse to remain silent or distance ourselves from a persecuted colleague, knowing that at any moment any one of us could find ourselves in the same condition. We call on all our colleagues in the arts and culture to join with Hamlet Lavastida and demand that the Cuban authorities, the President of the Republic, the Council of Ministers and the prosecutor in his case immediately drop all charges against him. 

None of us will be free until we are all free together!

SIGNED:

Leandro Feal, artista
Armando Chaguaceda, politólogo
Rafael Díaz Casas, historiador de arte y curador
Julio Llópiz Casal, artista
Juan Miguel Pozo, artista
Alexander Pozo
Edgar Pozo
Luz Escobar, periodista
Carolina Barrero, historiadora de arte
Carolina Sansón
Ernesto Oroza, artista
Tania Bruguera, artista
Celia González Alvarez, artista y antropóloga
Janet Batet, historiadora de arte
Lester Alvarez, artista y cineaste
Royma Cañas Treto
Yissel Arce Padrón, historiadora de arte
Henry Eric Hernandez, artista y historiador de arte
Claudia Patricia Pérez Olivera
Victor Fernández
Aryam Rodríguez Cabrera, artista 
Afrik3Reina (Yenisleidys Borroto Vega), poeta
Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, artista
Mary Karla Ares
Eloy Viera Cañive, abogado
Igor López, periodista
Gerardo Muñoz, professor de literatura
Jose Manuel Mecías, artista
Lázaro A. Saavedra González, artista
Evelyn Pérez Galvez, historiadora de arte
Anelys Álvarez-Muñoz, historiadora de arte
Elvis Fuentes, historiador de arte
Anet Melo Glaria, diseñadora
Juan Si González, artista
Aminta D’Cardenas Soroa,
Katherine Bisquet, periodista
Camila Lobón, artista
Carlos Manuel Álvarez, escritor y periodista
Mytil Font Martinez, filóloga y editora
Daniel Triana Rubio, actor
Maykel González Viveros, periodista
Helen Ochoa Calvo, socióloga
Reynier Leyva Novo, artista
Yamilka Latina Cancio
Solveig Font Martinez, curadora
Sandra Ceballos, artista
Marcos Castillo, artista
Susana Mohammad, historiadora de arte
Gerardo Mosquera, curador y historiador de arte
Mijail Rodriguez Reverón, cineasta
Mario Luis Reyes, periodista
Kiko Faxas, artista
Abel González, curador
Osmy Moya, artista
Yimit Ramirez, cineasta
Joel Suárez Gómez, bailarín y coreógrafo
Luis Alberto Mariño Fernandez, compositor
Juan Aristedes Brinquez Otamendiz, fotógrafo
José Antonio García Simón, escritor
Levi Enrique Ora Mendoza, artista
Liliam Dooley, diseñadora

Over 60 artists and intellectuals including Tania Bruguera and Katherine Bisquet have voiced their support for Hamlet Lavastida.Read MoreNews, 27N Movement, Cuba, Hamlet Lavastida, Havana, San Isidro MovementHyperallergicRead More

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