The voices of Cuban artists and intellectuals emerged from the San Isidro and 27N Movements to publicly question both the lack of freedom of expression and the continuous violations of human rights by the Castro dictatorship. By that time, we could not fully imagine that we were witnessing the seminal forerunners of the great anti-government protests on July 11th across the entire island.
Numerous artistic creators took part in this wide-ranging act of non-violent resistance during the summer of 2021. A good number of them were brutally arrested; many of them still remain detained in the Castroite prisons or confined to their homes under siege by the political police. Others have been subjected to the most recent repressive praxis of the regime: the forced and expeditious expulsion from the country.
In the midst of this extreme situation of confrontation and repression, the Castroite cultural ruling elite has decided to celebrate the XIV Havana Biennial, ignoring that more than 500 political prisoners —including some minor children— resulted from the protests and blatantly trampling their citizen rights.
In response, the renowned and influential visual artists Tania Bruguera and Coco Fusco have promoted a campaign through social media to boycott the Biennial. They call the Cuban and the non-national artists to abstain from participating in this event since it is organized by institutions and officials tolerating or even supporting both the violence against Cuban creators and the violation of the most elementary human rights. The hashtag #NoALaBienalDeLaHabana asks for such a crucial abstention because the event is aimed to clean the image of the Cuban dictatorship before the international public opinion. It has gone viral in a meteoric way and attained the solidarity of hundreds of artists from different latitudes. They have expressed their refusal to attend by openly declaring their rejection and also by disseminating relevant images and videos on the social networks.
A letter entitled Why do we say No to Havana Biennial and ask you to do the same circulates through the networks and explains in detail the sufficient reasons for saying NO. This virtual letter has become a media snowball and has been promptly signed by hundreds and hundreds of artists, intellectuals and public figures.
In keeping with this campaign and in an urgent gesture of solidarity, the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora has
decided to support the anti-Biennial initiative by organizing an art exhibition precisely under the hashtag’s slogan. #NoALaBienalDeLaHabana showcases a series of fourteen posters that reflect —in precise or allegorical terms— the critical stance of fourteen Cuban creators from different generations: Humberto Calzada, Luis Cruz Azaceta, Cepp Selgas, Consuelo Castaneda, Juan-Si Gonzalez, Sergio Lastres, Ramon Williams, Omar Santana, Annelys PM Casanova, Alen Lauzan, Gorki Luis Aguila, Liliam Dooley, Julio Llopiz-Casals, Tania Bruguera…
Each of them pledged to reproduce his or her personal reasons for rejection in a unique image. Thusly, we have a close conjunction of The Miami Generation, the first Cuban crossover to the Anglo-American circuit, the Mariel Generation, the Generation of the 80s, the rafters of 1994, the Generation of the 90s…
They are leading exponents of performance and visual arts, photographers, and designers; they are Cuban artists from the island and from the exile; white and black artists, women and men, young people and veterans. All of them are part of an increasingly integrated cultural body that has undertaken, from various sides, an unrelenting offensive in the field of the ideas, through the driving force of creativity, against a regime that has condemned the fate of an entire nation to immobility.
The proposals submitted by the creators were standardized in a template conceived by the artist and designer Consuelo Castaneda in order to unify and consolidate the concept of a graphic protest platform in the poster gallery.
The poster was chosen as a format for the artistic images not only because it met the need to harness the limited possibilities of the available exhibition space, but also because of its historical significance as a political tool in the great ideological battles against autocracies. The poster played an important role in the fight against Fascism and Stalinism; nowadays, it is acquiring a Significant value in the statements against Castroism, especially through social networks.
This anti-biennial campaign is not the first in Cuban history. Between 1953 and 1954, the government of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco tried to organize in Havana —with the consent and patronage of the coup regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista— the Hispano-American Biennial of Art just in time for the celebration of Jose Marti’s Centenary. The response to this Franco-Batista project was the Marti’s Art Exhibition (anti-Biennial) in the halls of the Lyceum and Lawn Tennis Club. It was inaugurated on January 28, 1954, with artworks by Victor Manuel, Marcelo Pogolotti, Jorge Arche, Mario Carreno, Cundo Bermudez, Mariano Rodriguez, Julio Girona, Rene Portocarrero and Amelia Pelaez, to name just only a few of the partaking artists.
The relationship between both anti-Biennials is not fortuitous. All tyrannies commit the same excesses at any time, and the protest unleashed almost seventy years ago is similar to the one taking place in the Cuban culture today. All totalitarian regimes are a ruthless family leading to the same feeling of revulsion.
We feel that if it were not for previous institutional commitments, The American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora would have given all its exhibition space to a broader event of a protest. However, we are honored to put our modest grain of sand in a campaign based on ethics, virtue, and love for Patria y Vida [Homeland and Life].
In one of his luminous bursts of inspiration, our beloved Marti declared: “One just principle from the depths of a cave is more powerful than an army.” And that is precisely what the mission assumed by this Museum is about.
Jesus Rosado© / Miami, December 2021