Thursday, April 11, 2019

Cuban American Artist Denied Entry to Cuba Ahead of Havana Biennial

"L'art pour l'art" - Théophile Gautier (1811–1872)

Cuban American artist Coco Fusco

ArtNews and Art Forum are reporting on how Cuban American artist Coco Fusco was denied entry to Cuba and declared inadmissible. Artistic freedom of expression is an important topic for this blog. Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter came into being on August 23, 2009 in reaction to attempts to censor Juanes in Miami for wanting to put on a concert in Cuba. Defending both freedom of expression and art for art's sake are both important.  ArtNews reproduced a Facebook entry by Cuban American artist Coco Fusco describing what happened to her when she tried to enter Cuba. Furthermore Cuban rappers Maykel Castillo Pérez, "El Osokbo"  and  Lazaro Rodriquez Betancourt “Pupito en Sy” remained jailed for their opposition to censorship of the arts in Decree 349. This should outrage friends of liberty everywhere.


I am currently sitting in the immigration area of José Marti Airport in Havana. I have been denied entry to Cuba for the second time in the past year. I heard one of the Immigration officials refer to me as an "inadmissible." I'm not a live plant, cheese, a narcotic or a pornographic publication, but expressing critical views of repressive measures carried out against artists constitutes grounds for barring my entry to Cuba.

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. It has become a sad routine.

The immigration officials in the airport do not give reasons for my imminent expulsion. 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. It strikes me as a tragic that a government would harass its artists and silence critical debate about its culture in order to impress visitors by creating the false impression that the only art in Cuba is what the state wants to show. The state is counting on favorable coverage from visitors who know little and who will stay on the tour buses and remain inside their art corrals. It also counts on the complicity of artists who remain silent in order to be promoted by the state. They benefit from skeptics who believe that political interventions are carried by artists who lack better (i.e. more artistic) ways of getting attention.

Cuban nationals often believe they have no choice because speaking up means social death. How foreigners rationalize their silence Is another very complicated story, in which unwavering support for the Cuban revolution functions as a kind of anti-American chic for globe trotting intellectuals who haven’t had their own lives turned upside down by a state security apparatus.

Those who suggest that every biennial is selective and that Cuba is no different are missing the point or evading it. Since when do biennials in other countries arrest artists who open their studios or run parallel events? Since when do museums arrest artists that protest their practices? Since when is is ok to threaten foreigners who show up for an independently produced art event with deportation? Cuba is indeed different from many other countries in its harsh repression of criticism and cultural activism. It is also different in that culture is the last valuable product for export and whitewashing of its image that the state has left. If artists can determine what aesthetic value is the government will lose the last jewel in its crown.

I find it disturbing that it takes beheadings, stoning and long prison sentences to get most people in the artworld to protest censorship and repression of artists. 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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