Hunger strike in Cuba
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    ‘The only thing they can´t take from me is my body’

    ‘The only thing they can´t take from me is my body’
    ERNESTO SANTANA | La Habana | 5 Oct 2015 – 12:05 pm.

    A look of the career and meaning of the artist Danilo Maldonado (‘El

    Danilo Maldonado, aka “El Sexto” and Tania Bruguera were the
    protagonists, albeit absent, behind the last Bienal de la Havana; he was
    in prison, accused of “disobedience” and she, detained in the country
    against her will, faced the threat of a judicial process based on
    accusations of “resisting authority” and “promoting public disorder.”

    It is noteworthy that both artists sought to conduct performances in
    large public spaces. Maldonado’s, on 25 December, 2014 in the Parque
    Central, was going to be called Rebelión en la Granja (Animal Farm),
    while Bruguera’s, five days later, in the Plaza de la Revolución, was to
    be called El susurro de Tatlin (Tatlin’s Whisper).

    The political police did not allow the performances to take place, but,
    at the same time, actually brought them about. Tania Bruguera’s story
    finished when they returned her passport to her and she was able to
    leave the country last July, but Danilo Maldonado’s Animal Farm fiasco
    is still not over – nine months later.

    When in April of this year they granted him the Václav Havel Prize, in
    absentia, Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation,
    expressed that “El Sexto” belongs to a “generation of change” made up of
    historical figures who, using only words, “seek to peacefully shake the
    foundations of dictatorships, in such a way as to change history.”

    On that occasion Gari Kasparov expressed that what really had led to the
    artist’s arrest was the fact that a comparison between the Castro
    brothers and the pig characters in Animal Farm had “exposed the nature
    of a totalitarian regime.” Carolina Jiménez, with Amnesty International,
    which considers him a prisoner of conscience, declared that “jailing an
    artist for painting a name on a pig is ridiculous.”

    If the mere fact that Danilo continues to be imprisoned is unacceptable
    enough, and represents an appalling snub to the protests in Cuba and
    around the world, considering the letters signed by hundreds of people
    standing in solidarity with him, and the artist’s decision to go on a
    potentially fatal hunger strike, seeing himself with no other choice,
    the situation is now both sad and outrageous.

    In light of the gravity of this situation, and the Cuban dictatorship’s
    criminal indifference, Tania Bruguera sent Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary
    General of the of United Nations, a letter denouncing the pressure and
    censorship to which artists in Cuba are subjected, and asking him, in
    specific relation to the case of “El Sexto,” for all “the help
    possible,” so that he might contact the Cuban government and “prevent a
    tragic outcome.”

    Bruguera pointed out, in addition, that Maldonado “has the right to be
    released from prison while he awaits the public prosecutor’s decision.”
    Thus, she asked Ki-Moon to bring up the case before Raúl Castro while he
    was still in New York participating in the UN General Assembly. “No life
    should be in the hands of a government just because they don’t want to
    recognize that they have made a mistake,” wrote Bruguera, insisting:
    “Nobody should be used as a scapegoat to teach the rest of the artistic
    community a lesson.”

    A graffiti artist

    Danilo Maldonado Machado (1983) was also arrested during the visit by
    the previous Pope, Benedict XVI. In fact, being arrested, or even
    disappearing for days at the hands of state security forces, under any
    pretext, has become business as usual over the last five years of his life.

    They have shut down multiple exhibitions of his in Havana, or have not
    even let him open them, in addition to all those occasions on which they
    have prevented him from participating as just another plastic artist,
    with the political police stooping to the crudest kinds of intimidation
    towards the owners of venues and organizers.

    In an interview conducted by Antonio Rodiles for Estado de Sats in
    January of 2012, Maldonado said, with regards to his defiant creative
    impulse: “That cry inside you is so strong that you can´t take it
    anymore,” adding that he sees himself as “a human being who needs to
    express himself, above all” and that “they can call me a dissident, or
    whatever term they wish to invent.” He concluded with a phrase that now
    takes on a meaning it did not have three and a half years ago: “I am
    going to continue doing what I do, even if it means my life.”

    His first work of graffiti, in 2009, appeared all over his district of
    San Agustín: the sign Rev, from the key of a tape recorder —very
    significantly pointing backwards. He discovered, above all, how he could
    knock at the doors of power even with very paltry resources.

    His own face, wearing an interrogative expression, a broken five-point
    star and the question ¿Qué pasa? (What´s going on?) was his second work
    of graffiti, found all over all the city. In that same year, 2009, he
    came up with the idea of creating an almost comical character: a
    superhero who would save everyone from “this.”

    To create him Danilo drew upon the omnipresent official media campaign
    for the liberation of the “Five Heroes.” Thus appeared the “Sixth Hero,”
    a satire on a farce. He was astonished by people’s instant understanding
    of it, and then watched as he lost control over what “El Sexto” (The
    Sixth) came to mean; he saw him as an everyday person, as anyone can be
    a free “hero.” Even if many believe that “nothing can be done, because
    nobody does anything, there is always someone who dares to openly
    express what he feels and thinks.”

    A creative whirlwind would follow, with multiple works of graffiti
    throughout Havana, including the irony of Devuelvan mis cinco euros
    (Give me back my five euros), the first arrests and threats. They
    ordered him to take off a pullover that read “Laura Pollán vive” (Laura
    Pollán Lives) and, when he refused, they ripped it off him. “We are
    going to knock down the wall,” stated Danilo (now having transformed
    into “El Sexto”), “for our children, for our family. We are going to put
    an end to this fear.”

    I had the chance to interview him for Cubanet on two or three occasions.
    We saw each other in a range of places, and talked at length. His
    sincerity and incapacity for ostentation were evident to me. He spoke
    without excessive emphasis, never aloud, always patient and very
    convinced, as if he had been born thinking the way he does.

    In an interview in May of 2012 I asked him about his education and he
    answered that – although he studied for a time at the studio of Roberto
    Diago, and at cultural centers, and admired Amelia Peláez, Antonia
    Eiriz, Mirta Pilar, Hilda Vilar, Arte Calle, Ezequiel Suárez, Luis
    Trápaga, and many others, not to mention Basquiat — “what really taught
    me, what nourished me, was the street.”

    Another thing he said, which today takes on greater meaning, is that
    “every time the situation gets more difficult, I feel more motivated to
    grow. One ends up on the floor, or he grows. You can´t get used to
    losing. I know who the enemy is and what he wants.” But there was no
    intolerance in him. For example, he had no problem sharing a space with
    an artist who was doing absolutely the opposite of what he was.

    “If your behavior in front of people is a lie,” he said, “you can be
    with a woman you don’t like, do a job you don’t like, hang out with
    people you don´t like…and your whole life is a lie.” He finished this
    thought by stating that one must make it clear that “I am drawing the
    line here,” because, if you don´t, “your life fills up with a thousand
    lies, and it spins out of control. You end up signing a letter endorsing
    someone’s execution, and hugging Fidel Castro.”

    On that occasion “El Sexto” stated that “Art changed my life. It was
    like waking up, better than any religion. And I had been blind. The best
    thing that ever happened to me was being an artist here in Cuba,
    including the bad things that, unfortunately, happen, but they help you
    to mature, leading to better things. Leaving would be the simplest
    solution. But why should I, when this is my home?” He would later have
    the opportunity to travel to Europe and the United States, but he
    returned here.

    When I interviewed him in September of 2012 he had gotten a tattoo of
    Oswaldo Payá, to pay tribute to the man who inspired the Varela Project,
    giving the Cuban people lots of hope and encouragement, when many
    thought it impossible to do way with this dictatorship in a peaceful way.

    “El Sexto” wanted to use his body to honor “those who are being killed
    by the Government: Laura Pollán, Orlando Zapata, Wilman Villar and
    others. I am also going to add ’13 March’ and the number of people who
    died there.” According to him the political police can cover his
    graffiti with pink paint, and get him thrown out of the studios, “but
    the only thing they can’t do is take away my body.”

    By that time it was almost impossible for Danilo to sell his pictorial
    works, because buyers had them confiscated at Customs at the airport. It
    was difficult for him to spend multiple weeks at the same studio. They
    took his materials, sent to him via Cuba Pack, and cancelled the credit
    on his mobile, sent from abroad, with ETECSA keeping the money. And they
    seized his personal and work items —agendas, journals, sprays,
    cardboard, pens, everything in his knapsack— when they arrested him.

    Nevertheless, incredibly, Danilo did not lose his cool. He talked about
    the persecution and harassment to which he was subjected in a tone as if
    it had happened to someone else: “I can’t work at home any longer
    because, the more they come after you, the more rebellious and defiant
    your work gets, more radical, and my relationships with my grandparents
    and my mother suffer. They’re scared.”

    Hero of “no,” artist of “yes”

    Danilo Maldonado declared a hunger strike on 25 August, protesting his
    eight months of imprisonment. He stopped at the beginning of September,
    but resumed it on the 8th. Agents calling themselves Kevin and William
    visited his mother, María Victoria Machado, at her workplace to persuade
    her son to abandon the strike, not to “work for the enemy” and “not
    close any more doors,” as only they could help. By that point, however,
    his mother knew very well who her friends and enemies were; they were
    not able, then or since, to secure her cooperation.

    She demands justice for her son. Although the director and the lawyers
    of the Bufete Colectivo (collective law office) of the town of Plaza de
    la Revolution recognize that he did not commit a crime, they refuse to
    issue statements to the press. The lawyer on the case, Mercedes Nery
    Ferrer Iznaga, has done a dreadful job, if it can be said that she has
    done anything at all. In reality she has only supported the regime’s
    illegal and vindictive actions, even threatening friends of the
    defendant who have visited her at her offices.

    Dani belongs not just to a generation (as there are several) but a whole
    group of wide-ranging artists who have been opposing the regime for
    years now, some more overtly than others, in the field of Culture and
    appealing to the public, like Gorki Águila, Los Aldeanos, Raudel Collazo
    (Escuadrón Patriota), OMNI-Zona Franca, Lía Villares, Ángel Yunier Remón
    Arzuaga (El Crítico), Luis Trápaga, Maikel Extremo, Ángel Santiesteban,
    and Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, among others.

    Some of them are not well known, because it is so difficult for them to
    promote their work or communicate with the public. At times it is even
    hard for them to create their works. Amongst those who are widely known,
    however, some time ago the most harassed of all was Gorki, who spent two
    years in prison, has been arrested countless times, and even has a
    camera watching his house.

    Also suffering serious repression has been Ángel Santiesteban, who just
    spent two years behind bars, and is now out on parole. But, at this
    time, after nine months suffering grim conditions in jail, the artist
    most persecuted by the regime is “El Sexto.” And the most feared.
    Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, a writer and photographer who no longer lives
    in Cuba, described Danilo as “a free artist, much reviled for his
    courage and his genius.”

    Many will remember that “joke” from the dark Soviet era that went:
    “Don’t think. If you think, don’t speak. If you think and speak, don’t
    write. If you think, speak and write, don’t sign. If you think, speak,
    write and sign… don’t be surprised.”

    Danilo has thought, spoken, written, signed everything and, far from
    being surprised, has astonished the minions who persecute, isolate and
    seek in vain to discourage him, beyond anything they ever could have
    expected. Way beyond. Thus, they would be capable of letting him die, as
    they have done in other cases.

    The cynical, unprincipled and aesthetically vapid Alexis Leyva, who goes
    by “Kcho,” conscious of his lack of integrity, gave Pope Francisco, with
    the blessing of the devout Raul, a crucified Christ on a cross of oars,
    declared at a Biennial: “El Sexto is a nobody. In Sweden you do graffiti
    and they lock you up. That’s not art at all.”

    It is terrible but true: pigs sleep well, and eat better, even when men
    of conscience languish in the shadows —though without giving up their
    inner freedom. At the end of Animal Farm George Orwell writes: “What was
    it that had changed on the pigs’ faces? Some had five chins, others had
    four, those had three.”

    “The only thing they can´t take from me is my body.” Or his dignity.

    Source: ‘The only thing they can´t take from me is my body’ | Diario de
    Cuba –

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