Artist, writer, and academic Coco Fusco was denied entry into Cuba this morning, April 10, just two days ahead of the Havana Biennial opening. The refusal comes amidst artist-led opposition to Decree 349, a controversial item of legislation regulating artistic production in the country.
In a statement written today from the immigration area of José Marti Airport in Havana, Fusco says that though state security has not offered a reason for their demand that she return to the United States, “I am sure that this is due to my writings on Cuban art and cultural politics, and my steadfast support for the artists-led movement in Cuba against Decree 349.”
“I am not the first or the last intellectual with close ties to Cuba who has been punished in this way for expressing my views and advocating for greater freedom of expression in Cuba,” Fusco says. The artist relayed that this is the second time in the past year that she has been denied entry into the country.
Decree 349, signed by newly instated President Miguel Díaz-Canel in April and published in the Gaceta Oficial de la República de Cuba in July, grants the Cuban Republic greater control over independent artistic production. Among its regulations is a rule that states that artists must gain approval from the Ministry of Culture before hosting artistic events or selling work.
In December, Fusco told Hyperallergic, “[The artist-activists] perceived that this was going to be an attack on the poorest artists, the most autodidact, the most political, and the people that don’t want to work with the government. And so they’ve been fighting this in a number of different ways since July.”
A group of artists, including Tania Bruguera, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, and Yanelyz Nuñez Leyva, were arrested in December for planning a sit-in at the Ministry of Culture to oppose the decree.
Days before the law was set to go into effect on December 7, following international attention from organizations like Tate and Amnesty, the government promised to reassess the law. However, the artists say, “We have not received any further information about those regulations as yet.”
In February, Cuban artists asked Havana Biennial participants to act in political solidarity with their cause through acts like collaborating with artists affected by the law or wearing T-shirts opposing the decree during their time in Cuba.
In a letter to biennial participants the artists wrote, “This law criminalizes independent artistic activity and gives art inspectors the right to impose a fine or subject artists to asset forfeiture as a penalty for presenting work without authorization from the state. The Cuban government created the law without consulting its arts community.”
“All that we ask is that you find ways to include the artists who are going to be marginalized due to the decree in your experience of the biennial,” they explain. “A small gesture of solidarity goes very far in Cuba, particularly in the arts […] As members of a global art community we are all interconnected.”
This year, the San Isidro Group of Cuban artists is organizing a Bienal Sin 349 (Biennial Without 349), an alternative exhibition that will run concurrent to the first week of the Havana Biennial. “This is really about inviting artists to stand in solidarity with us,” artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara told The Art Newspaper.
“I find it disturbing that it takes beheadings, stoning and long prison sentences to get most people in the art world to protest censorship and repression of artists,” Fusco writes in her letter from today. “Violence is not reducible to physical aggression. Creativity, imagination and hope die slow deaths in a country where any expression of dissent is criminalized. A biennial every few years doesn’t upend that deterioration.”
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