Looking Back on the Year in Art and Protest in Cuba – 古巴艺术与抗议年回顾

‘Within the Revolution everything, against the Revolution nothing,’ declared Fidel Castro to the Cuban intelligentsia in 1961. Those words put an end to a debate over whether the state was justified in its censure of a film about nightlife at Havana’s port and led to the closure of Cuba’s premiere cultural magazine, Lunes de Revolución. While that infamous phrase has defined Cuba’s cultural policy ever since, its interpretation has varied depending on the political climate of the country. Nowadays Cuba enjoys international prestige for its free art education and its roster of home-grown art stars, but abstract painting, homoerotic fiction, scatological performances, anti-authoritarian poems, political punk rock and rap have fallen outside the boundaries of acceptability at many stages of the revolution, leading to arrests, the social death of several intellectuals and the confiscation of art works.      

This past year marks another turning point, and the Cuban art scene is on edge. An unprecedented number of protests have taken place against a new law that imperils the independent arts sector. The last decade of Raúlista reforms – initiated by Castro’s successor, his brother Raúl – boosted the private sector, opened access to the Internet, and eliminated travel restrictions for most Cubans, but US President Donald Trump’s antagonistic stance towards the island has given hardliners the upper hand again. When Miguel Díaz-Canel took over as President last April, the government announced it would update the Cuban constitution. A series of new laws were proposed that reign in the island’s burgeoning public sector through increased taxation and limits on growth. While the state argues that the new measures are necessary to control corruption, many Cubans see them as an attack that renders their businesses unsustainable.


Looking Back on the Year in Art and Protest in Cuba - 古巴艺术与抗议年回顾

No al Decreto 349 (No to Decree 349), 2018, film still. Courtesy: the author

One such law, Decree 349, was made public last summer and went into effect on 7 December. It criminalizes independent cultural activity that is not authorized by the state. It entails the creation of a cadre of roving inspectors that will be empowered to shut down activities in private recording studios, home-based galleries and clubs. Sanctions range from stiff fines to confiscation of privately-owned equipment to the seizure of homes. Artists on the island see the law as a return to the repressive cultural policies of the 1970s. Before it became law, Amnesty International called Decree 349 a ‘dystopian prospect’ for Cuba’s artists.

It is not unusual for Cubans to grumble about excessive state meddling in their lives, but it is rare for the complaints to be aired publicly and collectively. For decades, most artists and intellectuals who opted to stay on the island shied away from politics to avoid being branded as dissidents. In exchange for their silence they could exhibit, publish, meet important foreign guests, earn hard currency and travel. However, as access to digital technology, the internet and social media have made it possible for artists to produce and circulate their work outside state-controlled venues, they have grown increasingly bold. Once, artists who were arrested would serve sentences that lasted years – nowadays most are detained for hours or days at most. The benefits of engaging independent cultural activity for some outweigh the negative consequences.

Conflicts, censorship and arrests have not disappeared entirely, and the state bureaucrats often turn to official media to complain about declining morals due to the growing presence of commercial television from abroad and the defiant and prurient lyrics of Cuban rap and reggaeton. Nonetheless, to many it appears that the Cuban state is losing its ideological grip as younger Cubans opt for independently produced and pirated films, music and television as opposed to the offerings of the state. That may be precisely why the Cuban government is reacting so defensively against its cultural sector.


Looking Back on the Year in Art and Protest in Cuba - 古巴艺术与抗议年回顾

No al Decreto 349 (No to Decree 349), 2018, film still. Courtesy: the author

The current protests roiling the island didn’t actually begin as protests – they started with an independent initiative to create an alternative art biennial after the Cuban government announced that the official Havana Biennial would be postponed due to damage caused by Hurricane Irma last yera. A band of young and energetic independent artists proposed to fill the void with their own event called #00bienal, a low-budget DYI art show hosted in artists’ studios around Havana. They invited foreigners to join them on their own dime, did some crowd-funding to pay for publicity and equipment, and benefitted from a big shot in the arm when Cuban art star Reynier Leyva Novo donated the $CUC3,800 he received from the sale of one of his artworks to a Cuban Fine Arts Council. What the organizers lacked in material resources they made up for with their ingenuity, creating a highly effective promotional campaign on social media that introduced many autodidacts and lesser-known Cuban artists to an international audience.

The Cuban government responded as if they were facing a grave threat to national security. State officials issued public statements decrying the #00bienal organizers as enemies of the revolution. Propaganda videos against them were played in art schools and in closed-door sessions with artist union members. State security harassed the Cuban artists who participated, and some were stripped of their licenses to engage commercially as artists. Foreigners who travelled to the island for the event were either turned away, detained for hours at the airport while their belongings were ransacked, or threatened with expulsion if they participated in in the show. But the #00bienal proceeded, which was a victory for those who had assumed the risk of organizing it.

Decree 349 was published two months later, and the outcry was almost immediate. Two kinds of protests developed: the independent artists associated with the #00bienal and the underground music scene adopted a more confrontational strategy. They created anti-decree slogans, posted videos on social media against the decree, submitted formal complaints to various legal bodies and staged performative protests, some of which culminated in police raids and arrests. Cuban musicians produced a collaboratively recorded music video against the decree. The protestors turned the decree into an international news item and human rights conflict.


Looking Back on the Year in Art and Protest in Cuba - 古巴艺术与抗议年回顾

No al Decreto 349 (No to Decree 349), 2018, film still. Courtesy: David D. Omni

The other protest assumed a more discreet posture and has been led by artists and curators who operate within official circles. They called their initiative SIN349 (without 349). At first, they met with state bureaucrats behind closed doors. They composed a letter that ‘raised questions’ and ‘expressed concerns’ about the decree without calling for it to be rescinded. They argued that no such law should be enacted without prior debate among the professionals who will be most affected. As the weeks wore on though, they saw that bureaucrats would listen to them in meetings and only give vague answers upholding the state’s right to impose the law as ‘protection’ for the arts. Videos of their encounters started appearing on social media. Journalists who had embedded with those artists started publishing accounts of the meetings and circulated the letter the artists had written. The chronicles with the juiciest details have been published in the trendy online magazine El Estornudo, the brainchild of Cuban writer Carlos Manuel Alvarez.

At first, the state’s responded to these protests with silence, as if to say that they were inconsequential. But as the chorus of voices against the decree grew louder and officials at human rights organizations and the United Nations echoed their concerns, the Cuban government began to orchestrate a multi-faceted campaign of its own. Leaked internal memos from the cultural ministry indicated that those in charge of information had launched a counter-campaign against the protests on Twitter, defaming those who criticize the decree as mercenaries of foreign enemies of the revolution. Government sponsored bloggers and journalists published scathing criticisms of artists who spoke out against the decree, characterizing them as unprofessional, emotionally unstable or even criminal. Censorship is presented as a necessary prophylactic against bad taste, obscenity and excessively relativist aesthetic judgment that threaten to pollute Cuban culture. 


Looking Back on the Year in Art and Protest in Cuba - 古巴艺术与抗议年回顾

No al Decreto 349 (No to Decree 349), 2018, film still. Courtesy: David D. Omni

The police have also made moves, taking orders from Cuban counter-intelligence to restrain any public manifestation of discontent. A club where rappers staged protest concerts was shut down. Protest leader Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was expelled from his artist studio at a community based cultural centre. State security agents scoured public records to find ways to ‘break’ the protestors: two rappers have been jailed, one since September, without trial. Both are currently on hunger strikes. The home of activist Amaury Pacheco’s ex-wife, where he has not lived in more than a decade but which nonetheless is listed in official records as his last residence, was raided and the inhabitants have been pressured to denounce him to precipitate his expulsion from Havana back to Matanzas, where he was born but has not lived for over 20 years. Pacheco's neighbours recently revealed that social workers had visited them to inquire as to whether his children were properly cared for. Actress Lynn Cruz has been thrown out by the agency that represents her, allegedly for making disrespectful public statements about the revolution. Theatre director Adonis Milán was just forced out of his apartment, where he was planning to stage performance by his company, Perséfone Teatro.

Frustrated by the government's refusal to concede that the premise of the decree is misguided and also by its resistance to open dialogue, more and more artists started to come forward. The authors of the SIN349 letter went public, posting pictures of themselves online. Nueva Trova singer Silvio Rodriguez, known as a dogged supporter of the Cuban government, issued a statement criticizing the decree on his blog. Artist José Toirac, the last recipient of the Cuban National Fine Arts Medal, gave an interview to Diario de Cuba in which he stated that it was his duty as an artist to protest the decree. In late November, artist Marcos Castillo, formerly of Los Carpinteros, opened an exhibition of canvasses painted with water that he described as a strategic evasion of any attempt to use the decree to control the content of his work. Celebrated Cuban actor Luis Manuel Garcia posted on his Facebook page that he had been in closed door sessions with Cuban officials together with other artists who requested that the decree not go into effect, and was frustrated by their imperviousness and their use of well worn tactics to discredit their critics. This degree of variety and openness in the expressions of dissent by island-based Cuban artists and intellectuals has not been seen in decades.

The protestors called for a sit in outside the Ministry of Culture from 3 to 7 December. Cuban authorities pushed back against them so as to communicate that the state would not bend to the will of the citizenry. Beginning on 30 November, several of the artists who are known leaders of the protest began reporting that they were under siege, with patrol cars parked outside their front doors. Drag performer Nonardo Perea was called in for questioning by the Ministry of the Interior on 2 December and issued a formal warning not to leave his house. Artist Luis Trápaga was also called and threatened by State Security. Tania Bruguera was scheduled to receive curator Hans Ulrich Obrist on December 2nd for a workshop at her Hannah Arendt Institute, but just 24 hours before his arrival, she received word that he was cancelling his visit: rumour has it that he did so under pressure from the Cuban government.


Looking Back on the Year in Art and Protest in Cuba - 古巴艺术与抗议年回顾

Tania Bruguera wearing a t-shirt reading ‘No to Decree 349’, 2018. Courtesy: Tania Bruguera

Between 3 to 6 December, the state arrested Bruguera three times for her repeated attempts to sit in front of the Ministry of Culture. Reggae musician Sandor Pérez was detained for several hours on 3 December – a night that saw several detentions of prominent artists and journalists. Amaury Pacheco, Michel Matos and Yasser Castellanos were also arrested as they arrived at the Ministry and were released the following evening. Yanelys Nuñez Leyva and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara disappeared at dawn on and were released three days later. Yoani Sánchez, editor in chief of the digital newspaper 14ymedio reported that patrol cars were also stationed outside her office that evening.

Last week, the Cuban government finally staged its official public response to the political upheaval prompted by Decree 349. Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas went on Cuban television on 6 December and also spoke to the Associated Press to assure that, though the decree would go into effect the next day, it would not apply until several modifications were added. He insisted that the decree was not designed to target artistic creation. At the same time, Rojas referred to people who manipulated or misread the Decree as an attack state sovereignty in a not so veiled swipe at the protestors. The following day, Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso Grau, Rojas and UNEAC (The National Union of Cuban Artists and Writers) Fine Arts Chair Lesbia Vent-Dumois spoke on the Cuban TV show Round Table. This time, the discussion was geared towards creating the impression that there was a consensus among Cuban artists that the Decree was needed to protect the arts from ‘shoddiness and vulgarity’. They argued that this new law was just an update of prior legislation from the 1990s, completely ignoring that Decree 349 extends the Ministry of Culture's control into artists' private homes. Rojas suggested ominously that there were some adversaries out there who under the guise of protesting the decree were actually challenging the right of the revolutionary institutions to exist.

The protestors have publicly declared a limited victory, asserting that the government would not have had to explain itself or agree to make changes if they had not taken to the streets and the internet. With only five months to go before the next Havana Biennial, it is unclear how the Cuban cultural ministry will balance its need to attract liberal-minded foreigners with its imperative to control who they will be permitted to engage with. Those who flock to Cuba with their ‘I'm not into politics - I'm here for art’ blinders on may recall that, during the last Havana Biennial, Tania Bruguera was under virtual house arrest and her reading of Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) was interrupted by state workers who showed up unexpectedly with jackhammers to tear up the pavement outside her house. Ultimately, it will be up to foreign visitors to decide what they are going to Cuba for and what it means for them to be there in the midst of political turmoil. Those who continue to cling to the idea that they can step around the minefield that is Cuban culture should consider whether state policies that curtail the activities of artists matter as much as state institutions that enable Cuban artists to achieve international acclaim.

Main image: Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara as Miss Bienal to protest against Decree 349, Trafalgar Square, London, 26 October 2018. Courtesy: Lewis Jennings / Index on Censorship

Coco Fusco

Opinion /

Coco Fusco
Art & Politics
Art & Protest
Tania Bruguera
Looking Back
Looking Back 2018

1961年,卡斯特罗向古巴知识分子宣称:“在革命中,一切都是反对革命的,什么都不是。”这些话结束了关于哈瓦那政府对一部关于哈瓦那港口夜生活的电影的批评是否正当的辩论,并导致古巴首映的文化杂志《Lunes de Revolucin》的关闭。尽管这个臭名昭著的词组自那时起就界定了古巴的文化政策,但其解释因政治而异。国家的气候。如今,古巴因其自由的艺术教育和本国艺术明星的名册而享有国际声誉,但抽象绘画、同性恋小说、讽刺表演、反独裁诗歌、政治朋克摇滚和饶舌在革命的许多阶段都已超出了可接受的范围,导致社会被捕。一些知识分子的死亡和艺术品的没收。去年标志着另一个转折点,古巴艺术界处于边缘。针对一项危及独立艺术部门的新法律,发生了史无前例的抗议活动。卡斯特罗的继任者,他的兄弟劳尔,发起了劳利斯塔改革的最后十年,推动了私营部门的发展,开放了互联网,取消了大多数古巴人的旅行限制,但是美国总统唐纳德·特朗普对古巴的敌对立场再次让强硬派占了上风。去年4月,当米格尔·迪亚斯·卡内尔接任总统时,政府宣布将更新古巴宪法。一系列新的法律被提出,通过增加税收和限制经济增长,在岛上蓬勃发展的公共部门中占据统治地位。虽然古巴政府认为控制腐败必须采取新的措施,但许多古巴人认为这些措施是一种攻击,使他们的企业不可持续。截屏-2018-12-10-at-3.04.14-pm.jpg Looking Back on the Year in Art and Protest in Cuba - 古巴艺术与抗议年回顾 No al Decreto 349(No to Decreto 349),2018,胶卷静止。礼貌:作者之一,这样的法律,第349号法令,去年夏天被公布并于12月7日生效。将未经国家授权的独立文化活动定为犯罪。这需要建立一支巡回检查员队伍,这些巡回检查员将被授权关闭私人录音室、家庭画廊和俱乐部的活动。制裁范围从严厉的罚款到没收私人设备到没收房屋。岛上的艺术家认为这项法律是回到上世纪70年代的压制性文化政策。在它成为法律之前,大赦国际称第349号法令是古巴艺术家的“反乌托邦前景”。对于古巴人来说,抱怨政府过度干预他们的生活并不罕见,但是很少公开和集体发表这些抱怨。几十年来,大多数选择留在岛上的艺术家和知识分子都回避政治,以避免被贴上异议者的标签。作为他们沉默的交换,他们可以展览、出版、会见重要的外国客人、赚取硬通货和旅行。然而,随着数字技术的普及,互联网和社交媒体使得艺术家们可以在国家控制的场馆之外制作和传播他们的作品,他们越来越大胆。曾经,被捕的艺术家会被判处数年的徒刑——现在大多数人最多被拘留数小时或数天。对某些人来说,从事独立文化活动的好处大于负面影响。冲突、审查和逮捕并没有完全消失,政府官员经常求助于官方媒体抱怨道德滑坡,这是由于国外商业电视的日益盛行,以及古巴饶舌和雷盖顿的挑衅和淫秽歌词。尽管如此,对许多人来说,古巴政府似乎正在失去意识形态的控制,因为年轻的古巴人选择独立制作和盗版电影、音乐和电视,而不是国家的产品。这也许正是古巴政府对其文化部门采取如此防御性反应的原因。截屏-2018-12-10-at-3.06.08-pm.jpg Looking Back on the Year in Art and Protest in Cuba - 古巴艺术与抗议年回顾 No al Decreto 349(No to Decreto 349),2018,胶卷静止。礼貌:目前席卷该岛的抗议活动实际上并非以抗议开始,而是在古巴政府宣布正式的哈瓦那双年展由于上次飓风艾尔玛造成的破坏而推迟后,他们发起了一项独立倡议,创立一个替代艺术的两年展。一群年轻、精力充沛的独立艺术家提议用他们自己的“00bienal”活动来填补空白,这是一场低成本的DYI艺术展,在哈瓦那周围的艺术家工作室举办。他们邀请外国人自己一角钱加入他们的行列,为宣传和设备付费,还从古巴艺术明星雷尼尔·莱瓦·诺沃向古巴美术理事会捐赠他的一幅作品所得到的CUC3800美元中受益匪浅。组织者凭借其独创性弥补了物质资源上的不足,在社交媒体上开展了一场非常有效的宣传活动,向国际观众介绍了许多自学成才者和不太知名的古巴艺术家。古巴政府的反应就好像他们面临着对国家安全的严重威胁。国家官员发表公开声明,谴责“00周年组织者”是革命的敌人。在艺术学校和艺术家工会成员的闭门会议上播放了反对他们的宣传视频。国家安全局骚扰了参加活动的古巴艺术家,一些艺术家被剥夺了作为艺术家从事商业活动的执照。前往该岛参加活动的外国人要么被拒之门外,要么被关在机场几个小时,同时他们的财物被洗劫一空,要么被威胁如果参加演出将被驱逐出境。但00bienal继续进行,这对于那些冒着组织它的风险的人来说是一个胜利。两个月后颁布了第349号法令,抗议声几乎立即响起。两类抗议活动展开:与“00bienal”有关的独立艺术家和地下音乐场景采取了更具对抗性的策略。他们创建了反法令的口号,在社交媒体上发布了反对该法令的视频,向各种法律机构提交了正式投诉,并举行了表演性的抗议活动,其中一些抗议活动最终导致警方的突袭和逮捕。古巴音乐家针对该法令制作了一个合作录制的音乐录像带。抗议者把法令变成国际新闻和人权冲突。屏幕截图-2018-12-10-at-3.03.32-pm.jpg Looking Back on the Year in Art and Protest in Cuba - 古巴艺术与抗议年回顾 No al Decreto 349(No to Decreto 349),2018,胶卷静止。礼貌:大卫·D·欧姆尼(David D.Omni)另一场抗议活动采取更加谨慎的姿态,由在官方圈子里活动的艺术家和馆长领导。他们称他们的倡议为SIN349(没有349)。起初,他们闭门会见了国家官员。他们写了一封信,对法令“提出问题”和“表示关切”,但没有要求撤销。他们认为,在没有事先在受影响最大的专业人士中进行辩论的情况下,不应该制定这样的法律。然而,随着几周时间的流逝,他们看到官僚们会在会议上听取他们的意见,只是给出模糊的答案,以维护国家将法律强加于艺术的“保护”的权利。他们相遇的录像开始出现在社交媒体上。嵌入这些艺术家的新闻记者们开始出版这些会议的记录,并分发艺术家们所写的信。最多汁的细节的编年史已经发表在时髦的在线杂志《El Estornudo》上,它是古巴作家卡洛斯·曼纽尔·阿尔瓦雷斯的创意。起初,政府对这些抗议活动保持沉默,好像在说它们无关紧要。但是,随着反对该法令的呼声越来越高,人权组织和联合国的官员也纷纷表示关切,古巴政府开始组织自己的多方面运动。从文化部泄露的内部备忘录显示,那些负责信息的人发起了反对Twitter上抗议活动的反攻,诽谤那些批评该法令的人是革命的外国敌人的雇佣军。政府赞助的博客作者和记者发表了严厉的批评艺术家谁公开反对法令,描述他们不专业,情绪不稳定,甚至犯罪。审查是针对可能污染古巴文化的不良品味、淫秽和过于相对主义的美学判断的必要预防措施。屏幕截图-2018-12-10-at-3.01.19-pm.jpg礼貌:大卫·D·奥姆尼·警察也采取了一些行动,接受古巴反情报部门的命令,制止任何公众的不满表现。一个说唱歌手举行抗议音乐会的俱乐部被关闭。抗议领袖路易斯·曼纽尔·奥特罗·阿尔卡塔拉被驱逐出社区文化中心的艺术家工作室。国家安全部门搜查了公众档案,想方设法“打破”抗议者:两名说唱歌手被监禁,其中一名自9月份以来未经审判。两人目前正在进行绝食抗议。激进分子阿毛里·帕切科的前妻的家遭到突袭,他的前妻已经十多年没有在这里生活过,但官方记录中仍将其列为他的最后一处住所,居民们不得不谴责他,迫使他匆忙从哈瓦那赶回马坦萨斯,在那里他出生,但已经20多年没有生活过。帕切科的邻居最近透露,社会工作者曾拜访过他们,询问他的孩子是否得到适当的照顾。女演员林恩·克鲁兹被这个机构开除了。


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