Why More Artists Face Jail Around the World

From The Financial Times:

The contemporary artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcântara was sitting peacefully on the steps of the El Capitolio building in Havana when the police came for him. Arrested ahead of a protest against a law that subjects all creative activity in Cuba to state approval, he cried out in pain as he was bundled into their car. I watched the shocking video footage in his apartment a few months later, in November last year. Two weeks later he was back in a cell along with his partner, curator Yanelys Nuñez Leyva, arrested on suspicion of planning another protest against Decree 349, as the law is officially known. Earlier this year I spoke to another redoubtable Cuban contemporary artist, Tania Bruguera, whose arrest in December was just her latest run-in with the authorities. In 2014-2015, she was detained repeatedly in the eight months after she tried to stage a performance, “Tatlin’s Whisper”, that asked citizens to speak freely into a microphone in Havana’s Revolution Square.

Her installation about the global refugee crisis graced the Turbine Hall of London’s Tate Modern this winter. “There is a moment when you understand you can lose everything,” she tells me at Tate when I ask about the strains of prison. “But my anger turns out to be bigger than my need for personal freedom.” These Cubans are part of a tide of artists enduring imprisonment around the world in recent years — a marked change from the 20th century, when writers were more at risk of persecution.

. . . .

Art and politics are old bedfellows. Yet on the whole, the Old Masters took care not to bite the hands that fed them. Paolo Uccello’s magnificent “Battle of San Romano”, a set of three paintings to commemorate Florence’s conflict with Siena in 1432, polished the military reputation of his city so brightly that two of the panels were stolen by Lorenzo de’ Medici from their rightful owners. Nearly four centuries later, Francisco Goya embarked on a series of etchings, “Disasters of War”, that revealed the horrors inflicted on civilians and soldiers during the 1808-14 conflict between France and Spain. He was described by his biographer Robert Hughes as one of the “true ancestors of war reporting” — though the etchings were never published during Goya’s lifetime.

. . . .

Increased politicisation is only part of the story. Ivor Stodolsky, who set up AR along with fellow curator Marita Muukkonen in 2013 to provide residencies for visual artists at risk of persecution in their homelands, suggests that the new threat to artists stems ultimately from the growing power of the media in which they work. “The 21st century is a visual culture,” he says. “It’s beginning to be our dominant form.”

Stodolsky believes that one of the reasons artists are in trouble is because “today, visual art is about more than just visuals”. Indeed, the art world is an increasingly cross-disciplinary landscape. Once the province of painting and sculpture, it now encompasses photography, film, sound and performance.

Link to the rest at The Financial Times

Here is one of Mr. Alcântara’s works

And a video by several Cuban artists.


20 thoughts on “Why More Artists Face Jail Around the World”

  1. Hey, Financial Times! Are we supposed to be surprised?
    Those places criminalized verbal and written speech long ago. Art is the inevitable next step.

    It’s a well-known progression: first they criticize certain speech, then they demonize it and ban it, then they get serious about stamping out dissent.

    It’s a tale as old as time.
    The technique was old when Gilgamesh was young.

  2. I doubt he authorities give a hoot about art. Sounds like the target is any dissent. I suppose we could have a headline that says, “Why More Mechanics Face Jail Around The World.”

    • Well, of course the objective is to stamp out dissent.
      But mechanics don’t have many “subtle” or metaphoric ways to communicate ideas other than the already proscribed ones.

      Plus they don’t usually think they’re more clever than the government watchdogs: they live closer to the real world than the ivory tower types. If they’re going to express dissent they’ll do it in a way that leaves scorch marks.

      • Three artists cited were arrested for planning demonstrations. Mechanics can do that just as well as artists.

        Why More Actuaries Face Jail Around The World.

        • Again, they can. Anybody can.
          But they know better than to engage in meaningless gestures.

          It is no accident that most effective terrorists are engineers and mechanics.
          (As in the builders of bomb vests, not the suiciders.)

  3. Dentro de la revolución, todo.
    Contra la revolución, nada.

    Sums up the State’s position eloquently.

    Currently there are only four gov’ts that profess to follow communism: the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, Vietnam, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

    The PRC contains more economic systems — from full state control to laissez faire free market — than exist in the rest of the world. Those areas with that use free market economics — Shanghai, Beijing, and others — are demonstrably wealthier than those that don’t. Regardless, the Communist Party does not tolerate dissent.

    Vietnam (so I am told by friends who have traveled there) runs a raucously open economy. Dissent not tolerated.

    Cuba managed to turn the gem of the Caribbean into a slum by the application of communist party principles. As I see it, there are only two differences between Batista’s Cuba and Castro’s Cuba:
    1. The names and faces in the prisons changed.
    2. Under Castro, individual Cubans are measurably poorer.
    Dissent actively suppressed.
    (A digression: When the Cubans finally tear the limbs from all the Castros, kill the Communists, ask Mexico to show them how to build a semi-stable Latino gov’t, and open up their economy, a gaggle of individual Cubans are going to become rich selling their vintage cars.)

    The DPRK (조선민주주의인민공화국; for those who do not read Hangeul, the name emphasizes their connection to the old and revered Chosun (조선) dynasty) is ostensibly run by the Chosun Workers’ Party (조선로동당). In truth, it functions as a hereditary autocracy of homicidal nut jobs, each crazier than the one before. How’s the economy? The country cannot feed its people without foreign aid. The Taedong River plain alone should provide enough food for the entire population of 26,000,000. That it doesn’t testifies to the failure of their sogenannte planned economy. Dissidents executed, often in creative ways. One man was shot with a quad 23mm anti-aircraft gun.
    (In case you didn’t know — and likely you didn’t — South Korea maintains an asylum and assistance program for Koreans who escape the DPRK. Escapees receive a large cash reward, an apartment, a job, a bodyguard, and free medical and dental coverage for some time (not sure how long). Most of the escapees end up employed by one or more Korean TV networks to talk about life in North Korea and their escape.)

    • Rather explains the diligence and productivity of South Koreans, no?

      If only more people worldwide would take time to study the common factors of all basket case economies, not just the communists. That does require a modicum of sense and/or goodwill, though.

      • Perhaps they should start with the economies that work best. That would provide a good contrast. Maybe some history that isn’t focused on race and social justice?

        In the US, we have zillions of folks horribly ignorant of basic economics who insist they know how to run the economy, business, trade. Their feelings inform them. Knowledge of economics doesn’t mean one will make the right decisions, but ignorance usually means one will make the wrong decision.

        A good place to start is asking why things work in one country (South Korea), but fail in the next (North Korea). Why did West Germany become prosperous while East Germany made the Trabant? Why do Cubans in South Florida prosper, while Cubans in Cuba don’t?

        And the biggest question of all. Why did Mick Jagger come to New York for his heart surgery Friday?

        • Mick does what any rich person does: goes wherever he can cause he can afford anywhere. Poorer folks, even in the US, cannot afford what the rich (foreign or domestic) can in this nation. The rich can always eat the best, live in the best, and be served and operated upon by the best and most pampering.

          • Lots of Americans who aren’t rich, and certainly don’t have the resources Mick Jagger has get the same treatment.

        • A common refrain is why are Hindu people successful everywhere but in India?
          The answer is well known.

          • And it’s always fun to ask why the Ivy League schools have such a large percentage of their black students from the Caribbean.

              • The Indian Hindus are a pretty smart bunch. But neither the Indians nor anybody else has ever been smart enough to plan and control an economy that out performs the free markets.

                However, we are blessed with many people who are convinced they are.

                • It might be possible if we lived in a static unchanging world but that’s not the world we live in. The world we live in is dynamic, where actions breed reactions and where today’s hot new product is tomorrow’s outdated paperweight and where the richest most prosperous nation in a continent can in barely one generation become a global humanitarian crisis.

                  It is simply a span of control problem.
                  Even small, homogeneous nordic nations have failed at it.

                  Maybe our future robot overlords will have better luck.

                • Going back to my original point: studying failures highlights failure points and fallacies to avoid whereas studying successes shows things that worked in the past but won’t necessarily work in the future. Static systems always fail. Dynamic systems always fail, too. But they last longer and the best, with the strongest built-in error correction last the longest. But all systems that incorporate humans in the decision-making loop will fail.

                  Publishing regimes and national economies included.

                  Entropy always wins.
                  We came from chaos and to chaos we’ll return.
                  Everything else is temporary.
                  (For varying values of “temporary” , of course. 😉 )

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