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    El Sexto – He Who Laughs First, Laughs Twice

    El Sexto: He Who Laughs First, Laughs Twice / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez
    Posted on October 3, 2015

    14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 3 October 2015 — There was no mistaking
    it. It was the same face that smiles defiantly from some paintings in
    which it resembles an unrepentant Christ. I had seen the signature of El
    Sexto at bus stops, followed his ironies on Havana’s walls, and wondered
    if this young man really existed, putting so many dreams, so many
    screams into his midnight strokes . But there he was, standing in front
    of me, in a T-shirt with a spray can.

    “You cross out my stuff, I cross out yours,” said some of the artist
    Danilo Maldonado’s first paintings. It was when the police were using
    pink paint to hide his graffiti. Walking down Linea Street you could
    guess that behind those colorful patches in the middle of a wall that
    had gone decades without maintenance, the irreverent artist had left a

    So when I stumbled upon El Sexto, thin, rebellious, talented, it seemed
    I had rediscovered a well-known face from my family photos, someone I
    had shared colorful nocturnal moments with, insolent and clandestine.
    With time I discovered that I was also facing a man who would not give
    in to fear and who would use his own body as a canvas for disobedience.

    He declared himself “El Sexto” – The Sixth – of the “heroes” and
    shamelessly demanded “give me back my five euros,” in a mocking allusion
    to the official demand for the “five heroes” to be returned to the island.

    When we were drowning in the Castro regime’s longest campaign, demanding
    the release of the five Cuban spies in prison in the United States,
    Maldonado confronted this hemorrhage of slogans and billboards. He
    declared himself, at his own risk, “El Sexto,” The Sixth of the “heroes”
    and shamelessly demanded “give me back my five euros,” in a mocking
    allusion to the official demand for the “five heroes” to be returned to
    the island.

    The nickname stuck, although the former prisoners – sent home from the
    United States last December – are now fat and bored in their endless
    national tours and public events. And so the graffiti artist went from
    being “the sixth hero” to being the only hero of this story. A few days
    ago Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. This
    same restless boy who launched flyers all over Havana, inviting people
    to tear up and destroy their own fears.

    But it would be the playful side of El Sexto that most annoyed the
    prudish Cuban officialdom. The capacity for laughter, to ask an
    apparently naïve question that infuriates the repressor trying to
    interrogate him. The mischief of turning a traffic signal into a work of
    art. El Sexto made us big in his hands, although many of us were still
    watching him like a friendly and playful child who was beginning to
    leave his signature in the city.

    But the authoritarians lack humor. To them, laughter is an offense. Any
    joke plunges into their chests like a knife and hits them in the face
    like an embarrassing slap. Has there been anyone in Cuba as devoid of
    comic timing and the capacity for merriment as Fidel Castro? Probably
    not. And so the system created in his image and likeness reacts with
    self-consciousness and intolerance to sarcasm.

    The two piglets El Sexto was preparing to release in Havana’s Central
    Park last 25 December, painted with the names Raul and Fidel on one
    side, were the straw that broke the camel’s back. Every day of his long
    confinement in Valle Grande prison, they had to make him pay for the
    great audacity of that performance which he titled “Animal Farm.” But
    they don’t realize that he who laughs first laughs twice, and Danilo
    Maldonado has always been the one who initiated the fit of laughter in
    this story.

    Danilo was born when many Cuban children were saying goodbye to their
    parents as they left for the war in Angola. He put on the neckerchief,
    recited at every morning school assembly that slogan we proclaimed,
    “Pioneers for communism,” concluding with the commitment “We will be
    like Che.” What when wrong with the process to tame his clay?

    Poverty and exclusion shaped his life. In the letter he wrote from his
    cell, during the hunger strike that he carried out for 24 days, he
    wrote, “My family is very humble; I lived in Arroya Arenas from the time
    I was four; in Chafarinas, Güira de Melena; in Covadonga, Las Tunas: a
    village still without electricity; Guáimaro, Camagüey and Arroyo Arenas,
    La Lisa.” He wore Cuba on his skin before he painted it.

    Then he knew the pain of police handcuffs when they tightened them
    around his wrists, the cell where they locked him up when Benedict XVI
    visited Cuba and that time he was detained for almost four days to make
    him confess that it was he who had painted those arabesques and rubrics.
    That sequence of clashing with reality forged the artist, in a more
    authentic way than the academy does other professionals of the brush and

    I’ve never had a Christmas tree as beautiful as the one this young man,
    born in Nuevitas, Camagüey, painted on a cardboard box for a group of
    bloggers and independent journalists to celebrate the coming of the new
    year. It was rangy, beautiful and he did it in a stroke, without even
    taking a breath. Because if something springs from El Sexto’s every pore
    it is this capacity to turn the ugly and forgotten into a work of art.

    One day we offered him the wall of our own home. The one that separates
    our apartment from the abyss, on the balcony fourteen floors up. He
    worked on it for several days, filling the place with the smell of sweat
    and paint. Over his colorful rainbow of plurality, an angel asks for
    silence and a police inquisitor still looks out at us with reserve.

    Every morning I look at that wall as a daring orange sun rises over it.
    I imagine the cell where Danilo Maldonado is now, the mattress they give
    him to sleep for barely five hours a night, the heat and the
    overcrowding. There are no spray cans there, no colored pencils nor
    oils. But who knows if after he is released, in some corner of the
    prison, they will find one of his graffiti made with the metal of a
    spoon or a piece of coal. El Sexto will be laughing then, for the
    umpteenth time, at his jailers.

    Source: El Sexto: He Who Laughs First, Laughs Twice / 14ymedio, Yoani
    Sanchez | Translating Cuba –

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