Antonio Guerrero Speaks about His Paintings

Antonio Guerrero, one of the five Cuban antiterrorist fighters who have unjustly been serving long sentences in the United States for preventing terrorist attacks against Cuba, has discovered poetry and painting during the thirteen years he has been in prison. His latest collection of paintings on Cuban endemic butterflies is being exhibited at the Cuban National Museum of Natural History.  Juventud Rebelde nespaper spoke to him about his work. (See Special)

By: Nyliam Vázquez García and Isairis Sosa Hernández –

During his 13 unjust years in US prisons, Antonio Guerrero has dived into poetry and painting. His latest collection of paintings on Cuban endemic butterflies is currently on display at the Cuban National Museum of Natural History.

Antonio Guerrero is one of five Cuban antiterrorist fighters who have been serving long sentences in the United States for their work towards preventing terrorist attacks against Cuba,

Tony, as his family and friends call him, spoke to Juventud Rebelde about his latest collection and how the arts have helped him bear the extremely difficult circumstances he has been forced to endure.

Another Way of Poetry

“I began to write poetry when we were only allowed a small pencil and a few sheets of paper to write on in those gloomy cells they call “the hole,” where they kept us for 17 months after first detaining us as punishment for our firm pronouncement of our innocence,” said Tony.

 “Anytime I am subject to brutal punishment, poetry emerges and sets me free.”

“Painting came to me when I finally was integrated into the general prison population and was able to enjoy the ‘privileges’ that prisoners normally have, like having drawing or painting material as part of their belongings. However, I must clarify that I first drew with pencil and graphite, which is most commonly seen in prisons since it is most feasible and less expensive. To me, all visual arts expressions are another form of making poetry.”

Speaking of watercolors he said: “They came to my hands when I didn’t have any intentions to paint with them. I was searching for something that would help me rewrite my poems in calligraphy, and a prisoner sent me to see another prisoner who had these watercolors. They thought they would be good for that, but they didn’t turn out to be good for calligraphy because they dry too fast.”

“So, I had all this material and I didn’t know what to do with it because nobody worked with them. Aided by some books and daily dedication, I began to learn, and am still a simple apprentice.”

Referring to how he managed to paint while being behind bars, he said: “You can paint with watercolors in the cells, though there are many restrictions, including the extremely small space you are forced to share with another person who sometimes also needs to make use of the only table available.”

Sometimes I wonder how Guerrero manages to abide by the prison regime, read, answer letters, write poems, paint…”Everything depends on priorities when it comes to organizing and focusing on what you are doing, and setting goals that, step by step, you manage to achieve.”

“The project of the Cuban endemic butterflies emerged from a tie that we had established with officials at the National Museum of Natural History, which was originally conceived to be done with watercolors of endemic Cuban butterflies and continued with guacamayos, and later on with the national birds from Latin American nations.

“The butterfly project began when I was proposed to participate in that project, which I accepted, and they considered me one of the members of the team, which was a great honor for me.”

Speaking of the process he added: “Once the images came to me, thanks to the cooperation of many people including the specialist Fontenla and renowned photographer Liborio Noval, I worked without rest to finish butterfly number 25.

“This project was easier than previous ones thanks to the experience I acquired along with a greater knowledge of the technique to paint the backgrounds and layer the images, in this case, contrary to oil, from clear to dark colors. When painting with watercolors the color white is the paper which plays a very important role in every work.

“Liborio’s photos were magic, so I just had to pay close attention to the details and find the right color, which many times results from the mixture of two colors, which comes through practice.”

“Each finished work gave me a new satisfaction even though art is not only about fulfilling a task.”

“Currently, I am working with oils. I use a type of oil paint which is soluble in water.  It is not a professional quality of painting, but a learning process. Once again, only aided by a few books.

“Basically, I am working on portraits, which is what most motivates me and what I have been mastering little by little. My technique is the classic, realist portrait. The road ahead is even longer.”

“My greatest satisfaction is just to make a friend or a relative happy, and contribute to our just struggle with my portraits and other works.”

Tony has two projects for next year. One of them, as he commented, will be several pieces based on photos of Silvio Rodriguez in his concerts around Havana’s neighbourhoods; and the other is another collaboration with the Museum of Natural History, where Tony will exhibit watercolor paintings of endemic flowers from Latin America.

“We will call it Flores de America (America´s Flowers),” he announced.

Going back to the butterflies´ collection, Guerrero said: “When I was painting our butterflies, I felt I was closer to my beloved homeland; I remembered moments of my childhood, I felt our burning summer, I saw the beaches, the fields of our beautiful island. It was an exercise of recreation and freedom.”

It is an open secret. Those who condemn them, show them no mercy and keep them behind bars instead of being at home with their families, don’t know that neither Tony nor any other of the five Cubans are prisoners in their cells. They all flew to Havana on one of those butterflies.
Metaphor of Resistance

PhD in Biology Jorge Luis Fontenla was of great help to Tony´s work, since Fontenla described in detail the form and color of each of our beautiful endemic butterflies.

—From a scientific point of view, how do you assess this representation Tony has made of Cuban butterflies?

—As a scientist, I can say that the butterflies are very well portrayed. What Tony made with his painting is really incredible. The Cuban public can visit this exhibition and see a representation of the butterflies that are almost identical to the natural butterflies; we can identify the species in nature by Tony´s paintings.”

—What do you think of those butterflies painted by Tony, though he cannot see them?

—I become astonished when I think about his endurance despite the conditions he´s been forced to live in; when I think that he has been able to make art, and with extraordinary fidelity. It is a complete metaphor of resistance and patriotism.

—Did you give Tony any special recommendations or suggestions before beginning to paint our butterflies?

—In the graphic representation we made of the Cuban endemic butterflies being preserved at the Ecology and Systematic Institute (IES), we tried to do it from a dorsal and ventral view, since both parts have different colors; and we informed Tony of this to consider when painting the different species.

—Any special fascination for butterflies?

—Yes. In fact, I began my major as a biologist studying the Cuban endemic butterflies, then I moved on to ants; but yes, I do love butterflies.

“Our country doesn´t hold such astonishing species as in other parts of the Americas. However, Cuban butterflies are beautiful, and are extraordinary importance in the natural ecologic cycles as conveyers of pollen. There is no doubt that it is a very interesting group, and from the symbolic point of view, butterflies represent that spirit of free, pacific, useful and beautiful nature.”

Winged Bridges

Juventud Rebelde newspaper spoke with Tony’s sister María Eugenia Guerrero «Maruchi». She didn’t refer to the heroes or the antiterrorist fighter, she rather referred to her brother, her son’s uncle, Tonito and Gabriel’s father.

I believe that, in all of Tony’s paintings, one can appreciate the strength of the other four brothers in prison. Each exhibition, each work is done with the objective of following our battle through his works, and reaching the minds and souls of more people,” said Maruchi. “Well, inside that man there is a lot of love, there is a strong determination to be useful, for winning over more people for their cause and making more friends.”

“Tony loves to live in contact with nature, and maybe that has something to do with his identity, the idea of painting pictures of nature,” she said.

“When we received the images of the butterflies, we had the opportunity of visiting him since my mother and my nephew had been granted visas.  Then, I printed the images and sent them to him. That was in April, and incredibly in June my brother had painted all the butterflies.”

According to his sister, Tony said: “Any time I paint, everybody in jail compliments me on my work.”

Some other important characteristics that describe Tony are: He doesn’t like to undertake a project without having studied it in advance, and he tries to do it the best he can. He said that it is not for him, but out of respect of the audience. That´s how he began to study how to paint butterflies,” she added.

“When I saw the pictures of the butterflies, I thought about how difficult it would be for my brother to paint them, the colors, achieving the details. It even seemed that butterflies were harder to paint than birds. But, I was astonished when I saw the results,” she said proudly.

Then, Maruchi spoke about one of the most beautiful episodes of the trip. “Tony had an idea, he is always cooking up something. He said ‘What do you think, my sister, if we accompany each butterfly with a poem, or a song by a Cuban author whose lyrics refer to butterflies,’  since Cuban singer-song writer Silvio Rodriguez has a song about a butterfly, as does Pedro Luis Ferrer; and I know that there are many others,” she recalled. And so she did.

La mariposa que pinto
Unas tienen motas blancas,
otras, rayuelas en negro…
La mariposa que pinto
revolotea en mi pecho.
La miro, mueve sus alas;
me mira, ríe, y me alegro
cuando se posa gentil
en la flor que llevo dentro.
Como un suspiro de amor
salta del cáliz abierto
y con su gracia divina
le da colores al cielo.
Primavera sin jardines
bajo nubes del encierro,
pero vuelan mariposas
en acuarelas y en versos.

Poem by Antonio Guerrero Rodríguez

The Photographer

Liborio Noval, talks about how he photographed the 25 Cuban endemic butterflies for Antonio Guerrero to paint them in prison.

“The problem is that butterflies are very small, they are preserved, in a special environment, with a specific pin. The specialist took them out very carefully and put them on a white background to do the job. But there are some which are really small and I don’t have the macro lens that should be used in those cases,” said Liborio.

“Well, I took the photos with the normal lens and they were ok. Lucky for me, because I was concerned,” he confessed.

“I repeat, the merit is all Tony´s…I just took the photos of the butterflies, that is not something creative. It is not the same as seeing a counter light and taking the picture…The most important thing is the solidarity gesture to help Tony who is facing such a difficult situation. Thirteen years, the time spent in the hole and, despite all that, he has known how to recover. He says he feels free when he is painting. It is a way of showing them that we also want them to be really free, with us.”


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