Kcho: Art against injustice

The National Museum of fine Arts, Havana, will soon exhibit the installation: No agradezcan el silencio (Do not thank the silence), by the famed Cuban artist Alexys Leyva Machado known worldwide as Kcho.

The experience came from the experience lived by the Cuban Five prisoners in the Special Detention Unit known as The Hole in the Federal Detention Center in Miami, where they were for 17 months, despite the regulations for prisoners in the United States (U.S.) reduces to 60 days the maximum time of punishment.

Kcho: "I feel people will visit the exhibition spontaneously and that the majority will like to live the complete experience, including that of the cell that will be optional. Anyhow, those who enter the facility will feel, since the first time, the inconvenience to be in a controlled space, locked, inside bars and padlocks. That is the idea."

Thanks to this new proposal by Kcho, visitors will discover one of the thorniest problems of the American penitentiary system. People will experience five minutes of imprisonment, if they want, in a cell of 15 feet long and seven feet wide, with no more furniture than an iron litter with a thin mattress, a table and a chair made of concrete. The toilet is made of metal, the washbowl and the mirror that show your sad reflection.

Those are conditions created to make people feel like waste, to degrade them to the minimum expression, said Rene Gonzalez and Fernando Gonzalez to the artist in a meeting held at "the construction site" on Wednesday, March 19, when they visited Kcho working on the cell.

Kcho investigated the topic in detail, but testimonies of the anti-terrorist fighters that have returned to Cuba as well as the paintings by Antonio Guerrero were vital for the realism that highlights the piece.

"This is going to be like a great black bucket– Kcho said-, covered by a black curtain half transparent, so that you could see something, but part of it will be hidden. There will be orange dungarees with the name and the sentence of each of the Cuban Five printed on the back."

Those that would like to experience it should take off all the clothes and wear one of the uniforms including the sandals. From that moment on, the person will receive the similar treatment of those sentenced to The Hole received, including handcuffs and feet chained, as well as the called "walk" when they are taken out of the cell.

The work also includes a hall (like a cell too) for transitory exhibitions and a small classroom with writing desks where some of the audio visuals done about the topic of the antiterrorist fighters during 15 years of struggle for their release will be screened.

"But it is not only for the Cuban five– said Kcho to Trabajadores newspaper -, it is also for the Puerto Ricans and all political prisoner fighters who have faced the empire. It is also to criticize the system that has turned the prisons a lucrative and cynical business. They need the criminals who they suppose are in need to educate. Kcho: "I will be the first one to experience it; I will stay there the opening night. I do not sleep very much, so you will have to excuse me to carry a notebook to paint. I think that is in the only way I will stand so many hours in that cell."

Kcho: "This work is a report to an unjust regime that turns men into waste. The U.S. has more than 2 million prisoners and the system works as an enterprise. Resources are needed to be profitable. There is the case of Herman Wallece, for instance, the Black Panther, who was freed, just when he was about to die and stayed more than 40 years in solitary confinement".

Kcho: "The antecedents of this work are in one I did in 1999 for Casa de las Americas that was named: No me agradezcan el silencio (Do not thank me for the silence). It was a big ship inside a cage which is in Fine Arts Museum that also talks about the depravation of freedom. It is a call not to be accomplices of the silence in prisons. That silence is bad."

Fernando: "Part of the punishment is the lack of communication, you never see anyone, and you had to wait for the noise of a key, shout to see if they pay attention to you and ask the guards for chemicals to clean. In my last experience there, they most of the time said there were none. It seemed it was a problem of budget."

Even inside The Hole they followed several regimes of security -said Fernando and Rene to Kcho-, depending on that, they used handcuffs or chains tied to the hip and feet.

This was the first meeting between Fernando and Kcho after his return to the Homeland last February 28 after serving for 15 years and 15 days.

No agradezcan el silencio (Do not thank the silence) will be inaugurated in the National Museum of fine Arts. Its dimensions, the cells and padlocks, the security cameras and the presence of similar objects to those used in The Hole, multiply realism of the work.

Original article in Trabajadores