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Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida in 2019. (courtesy of Coco Fusco)

Over 140 Cuban intellectuals and cultural figures, including Tania Bruguera and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, have signed an open letter demanding the release of artist Hamlet Lavastida, detained in Havana this weekend upon his return from a residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. The artist is currently held at Villa Marista, the notorious maximum-security prison known for holding political prisoners.

“We condemn the criminalization of Hamlet Lavastida by the Cuban government. He is a Cuban citizen and artist who has done nothing more than exercise his constitutional right to express himself,” says the letter, reproduced in its entirety below.

According to Katherine Bisquet, a Cuban writer and poet who has been following the case, Lavastida was apprehended on Saturday, June 26, at the government center where he was completing a quarantine period imposed on travelers coming from abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The artist was detained on charges of “instigation to commit a crime” based on a private Telegram chat conversation of the 27N Movement, an activist group advocating for freedom of expression in Cuba.

In the messages, which were leaked and discussed on national television, Lavastida comments on an unrealized artistic project that would consist of marking high denomination bills with the symbols of 27N and the related Movimiento San Isidro (MSI). The concept is reminiscent of similar works made in the 1970s and 80s, such as Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles’s “Insertions into Ideological Circuits,” in which he stamped official banknotes with subversive messages before returning them to circulation.

But in Lavastida’s case, the open letter says, “that suggestion was never carried out by any of the members of the chat group, nor was it made public until Cuban television commentator Humberto Lopez revealed this private communication on national television.”

The authors go on to express their outrage over the Cuban state’s surveillance tactics, the accusations against Lavastida, and “fundamentally, the fact that an exchange of ideas and the exercise of imagination are qualified as a crime by the Cuban government, resulting in a citizen being prosecuted for exercising what should be citizens’ rights.”

Lavastida’s work, which spans photography, collage, printmaking, video, and archival practices, often focuses on the institutionalization of socialism in Cuba. In the artist’s words, his aim is to create “a symbolic archive, a linguistic archive, or an iconographic archive” of the circumstances surrounding the Cuban Revolution and its aftermath.

Read the open letter in full, below:

June 30, 2021

Today is the 60th anniversary of the “Words to Intellectuals” speech that set the parameters for creative expression in Cuba. In 2009, artist Hamlet Lavastida created a work he titled “Intellectuals without words” as a commentary on the conditions in which Cubans have been forced to create for six decades.

We are artists and intellectuals who have decided to unite our voices for one purpose. These are our words.

We condemn the criminalization of Hamlet Lavastida by the Cuban government. He is a Cuban citizen and artist who has done nothing more than exercise his constitutional right to express himself.

Although Hamlet is today a target of aggression by the Cuban state, we understand that the criminalization of his thoughts, private conversations and art constitutes an attack on all Cuban artists and citizens.

We demand that the Cuban government release him and drop the fabricated charge against him. Hamlet is being held at the Villa Marista State Security Instruction Unit under investigation for alleged “instigation to commit a crime”. According to the state media outlet Razones de Cuba, “he has been inciting and calling for civil disobedience actions in public, using social networks and direct influence on other counterrevolutionary elements”. The alleged evidence used against him comes from a suggestion he made in a private chat group for Cuban banknotes to be marked as a public art gesture. That suggestion was never carried out by any of the members of the chat group, nor was it made public until Cuban television commentator Humberto Lopez revealed this private communication on national television.

We are outraged by the violation of the privacy of citizens, the unjust accusations against our colleague and, fundamentally, the fact that an exchange of ideas and the exercise of imagination are qualified as a crime by the Cuban government, resulting in a citizen being prosecuted for exercising what should be citizens’ rights. What the Cuban government calls civil disobedience (a category that includes criticism of the government itself and the organization of civic campaigns) is not subject to repression in a democratic Republic. We cannot tolerate such an egregious incursion into human rights.

We refuse to remain silent or distance ourselves from a persecuted colleague, knowing that at any moment any one of us could find ourselves in the same condition. We call on all our colleagues in the arts and culture to join with Hamlet Lavastida and demand that the Cuban authorities, the President of the Republic, the Council of Ministers and the prosecutor in his case immediately drop all charges against him.

None of us will be free until we are all free!

SIGNED:

  • Abel González, curador
  • Adria Valdés Peyrellade, arquitecta
  • Adriana F. Castellanos, cineasta
  • Afrik3Reina (Yenisleidys Borroto Vega), poeta
  • Alain Rafael Dueñas Estévez, fotógrafo y realizador
  • Alejandro Campins, artista
  • Alejandro sin Barreras, artista
  • Alenmichel Aguiló, historiador
  • Alexander Joa Medina, psicólogo
  • Alexander Pozo, diseñador
  • Alfredo Martínez Ramírez, periodista
  • Aminta D’Cardenas Soroa, productora
  • Ana Rosa Valdez, historiadora de arte
  • Anamelys Ramos González, historiadora del arte
  • Anelys Álvarez-Muñoz, historiadora de arte
  • Anet Hernández Agrelo, profesora e investigadora
  • Anet Melo Glaria, diseñadora
  • Anthony Bubaire Pérez, fotógrafo
  • Armando Chaguaceda, politólogo
  • Aryam Rodríguez Cabrera, artista
  • Camila Lobón, artista
  • Carlos Amilkar Melián, cineasta y periodista
  • Carlos Manuel Álvarez, escritor y periodista
  • Carlos Quintela, cineasta
  • Carolina Barrero, historiadora de arte
  • Carolina Sansón, especialista en gestión documental
  • Celia González Alvarez, artista y antropóloga
  • Claudia Genlui Hidalgo Moreno, curadora
  • Claudia Patricia Pérez Olivera, diseñadora
  • Cristina Parra González, antropóloga
  • Daniel Triana Rubio, actor
  • Dean Luis Reyes, profesor y crítico de cine
  • Demis Menéndez Sánchez, escritor
  • Edgar Pozo, escritor
  • Eliezer Sesma,
  • Eloy Viera Cañive, abogado
  • Elvis Fuentes, historiador de arte
  • Ernesto Oroza, artista
  • Evelyn Pérez Galvez, historiadora de arte
  • Fabiana Salgado, cineasta
  • Fernando Fragela Fosado, cineasta
  • Gerardo Mosquera, curador y historiador de arte
  • Gerardo Muñoz, profesor de literatura
  • Gretel Medina Mendieta, cineasta
  • Harold García Vázquez, artista
  • Heidi Hassan, artista y cineasta
  • Helen Ochoa Calvo, socióloga
  • Henry Eric Hernandez, artista e historiador de arte
  • Igor López, periodista
  • Iliana Hernández Cardosa, Periodista
  • Isel Arango Rodríguez, historiadora del arte
  • Janet Batet, historiadora de arte
  • Joel Suárez Gómez, bailarín y coreógrafo
  • Jorge Enrique Rodríguez Camejo, escritor y periodista independiente
  • José Antonio García Simón, escritor
  • José Luis Aparicio, cineasta
  • José Manuel Mecías, artista
  • José Raúl Gallego, periodista, profesor e investigador
  • Juan Aristedes Brinquez Otamendiz, fotógrafo
  • Juan Miguel Pozo, artista
  • Juan Si González, artista
  • Juliana Rabelo, investigadora social
  • Julio Llópiz Casal, artista
  • Karla María Pérez González, periodista
  • Katherine Bisquet, escritora
  • Kiko Faxas, artista
  • Laritza Diversent, abogada
  • Lázaro A. Saavedra González, artista
  • Leandro Feal, artista
  • Leandro M. Fernández Otaño, historiador
  • Lester Alvarez, artista y cineasta
  • Levi Enrique Orta Mendoza, artista
  • Liliam Dooley, diseñadora
  • Liz Peláez, bibliotecaria
  • Luis Alberto Mariño Fernandez, compositor
  • Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, artista
  • Lupe Álvarez, profesora y críti a de arte
  • Luz Escobar, periodista
  • Lynn Cruz, actriz y directora
  • Marcos A. Castillo, artista
  • María A. Cabrera Arús, socióloga
  • María de Lourdes Mariño Fernández, historiadora del arte
  • María del Carmen Domínguez, editora
  • Mario Luis Reyes, periodista
  • Mario Ramírez, escribidor
  • Marta María Ramírez, periodista y feminista
  • Marthadela Tamayo González, activista
  • Mary Karla Ares, periodista independiente
  • Massiel Fernández Torralbas, músico
  • Maykel González Viveros, periodista
  • Miguel Coyula, cineasta
  • Mijail Rodríguez Reverón, cineasta
  • Miryorly García Prieto, historiadora de arte
  • Mónica Baró, periodista
  • Mytil Font Martinez, filóloga y editora
  • Nadia Díaz Graverán, artista
  • Nelson Jalil, artista
  • Noel Alonso Ginoris, escritor
  • Osmani Pardo Guerra, trabajador por cuenta propia
  • Osmany Suárez Rivero, historiador del arte
  • Osmy Moya, artista
  • Osvaldo Hernández Menéndez, historiador
  • Osvaldo Navarro Veloz, activista
  • Patricia Pérez, cineasta
  • Rafael DíazCasas, historiador de arte y curador
  • Ray Veiro, escritor
  • Raychel Carrión Jaime, artista
  • Reinaldo Escobar Casas, periodista
  • Reynier Leyva Novo, artista
  • Reynier Pérez Morales, actor
  • Rodolfo Peraza, artista multimedia
  • Royma Cañas Treto, editora
  • Salomé García Bacallao, investigadora y artista
  • Sandra Ceballos, artista
  • Sergio Fernández Borras
  • Sindy Rivery, filóloga
  • Solveig Font Martinez, curadora
  • Susana Mohammad, historiadora de arte
  • Suset Sánchez, curadora
  • Taiyana Pimentel, curadora
  • Tamara Venéreo Valcarel, actriz
  • Tania Bruguera, artista
  • Valia Garzón, tasadora de arte
  • Victor Fernández
  • William Ruiz Morales, director de teatro
  • Yamilka Lafitta Cancio, historiadora del arte
  • Yimit Ramirez, cineasta
  • Yissel Arce Padrón, historiadora de arte y profesora
  • Yoani Sánchez Cordero, periodista
  • Pedro Calderón. ciudadano cubano
  • Yadira Rubio, educadora artística
  • Aisar Jalil Martínez, artista visual
  • Nara Valdés, ciudadana cubana
  • Yordanka Ramos Alfonso, Maestra
  • Luis Eligio D Omni, performer
  • Carlos Alejandro Rodriguez Halley, actor
  • Ricardo Acosta, cineasta
  • Juan Carlos Sáenz de Calahorra, cineasta
  • Javier Castro, artista visual.
  • Jorge Luis Marrero, artista visual
  • Sandra Ceballos, artista visual

Editor’s note 7/2/21 11:12am EST: This article has been updated to reflect the most recent version of the open letter, along with the corrected full list of signatories, which includes 141 artists and intellectuals.

Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the Brodsky Scholarship for Latin American...

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