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Artists Dawoud Bey, Theaster Gates, John Akomfrah, Julie Mehretu, and Carrie Mae Weems are among those calling for the release of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who has been in police custody at a hospital in Havana for over three weeks. The Cuban artist and leader of the dissident San Isidro Movement (SIM) was forcibly hospitalized on May 2 by state security agents during a hunger strike in protest of artistic repression on the island.
This week, 35 artists, writers, and activists released an open letter to Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel demanding Alcántara’s freedom. “Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is being detained solely for peacefully expressing his ideas through his art and for his nonviolent defense of human rights,” they write. “We urge you to secure his immediate and unconditional release.”
Alcántara began a hunger and thirst strike on April 26, after Cuban police raided his studio, confiscating several artworks and placing his home under siege. Eight days later, he was taken against his will to Calixto Garcia Hospital in Havana in what Camila Remón of SIM described to Hyperallergic as “a kidnapping.”
According to Remón, six members of SIM have been in police custody since April 30, when they attempted to visit Alcántara at his home: Inti Soto, Mary Karla Ares, Yuisan Cancio Vera, Luis Angel Cobas Alfonso, Thais Mailen Franco, and Esteban Rodriguez. An additional member, Adrian Coroneaux, was detained at the hospital when he tried to see Alcántara, she told Hyperallergic.
On Monday this week, a group of six artists, including Tania Bruguera and Tomás Sánchez, asked that their work be removed from the National Museum of Fine Arts of Cuba until Alcántara is released. In a hand-delivered missive to the museum’s director, Jorge Fernandez Torres, they demanded that any works currently exhibited “be covered in such a way as to prevent their ‘communication’ to the public,” and that those in the permanent collection but not on display be removed from the museum’s website.
In an interview with the Spanish agency EFE, Bruguera expressed her hopes that Torres “stands in defense of the artists, since the Ministry of Culture has not done so.”
Update 6/2/21 3:25pm EST: Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was released from Calixto Garcia Hospital this Monday, May 31. According to reports, the artist is at his family’s home in El Cerro.