Kcho: Art against Injustice

by Yimel Diaz
Trabajadores

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Kcho: “Silence is bad, people dislike lack of communication, and then they make documentaries about people like that of the National Geographic Channel where human suffering appears as if it were of a lion in Serengeti, Africa. Photos: René Pérez Massola

The National Museum of fine Arts will son 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 Heroes in the Special House 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.

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Kcho: “Siento que las personas van a venir espontáneamente y que la mayoría querrá vivir la experiencia completa, incluido el paso por la celda, que será opcional. De todas formas el que entre a la instalación sentirá, desde el primer momento, la incomodidad de estar en un espacio controlado, encerrado, rodeado de rejas y candados. Esa es la idea”.
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 glance.

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.

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Kcho: “Yo seré el primero en vivir la experiencia, me quedaré esa noche inaugural. Soy de poco dormir, por eso tendrán que disculparme la licencia de conservar un cuaderno para poder pintar. Creo que solo así aguantaré tantas horas encerrado”.
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.”

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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”.

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Kcho: “Los antecedentes de esta obra están en una que hice en 1999 para Casa de las Américas, se llamó No me agradezcan el silencio. Era un gran barco jaula, una cárcel, con cerca perles. En 1990 había hecho otra jaula que está en Bellas Artes y que también habla de la privación de libertad. Es un llamado a no ser cómplices de ese silencio que reina en las prisiones. Ese silencio es malo.
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.”

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Fernando: “Parte del castigo es la incomunicación, nunca ves a nadie, había que esperar a sentir una llave, gritar a ver si te hacían caso y pedirle al guardia los químicos para limpiar. En mi última experiencia por allí casi siempre decían que no había, al parecer por problemas de presupuesto”.
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.”

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Incluso dentro de El Hueco se aplicaban diversos regímenes de seguridad —explicaron Fernando y René a Kcho—, en dependencia de eso se empleaban las esposas o las cadenas que también ataban la cadera y los pies.
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.

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Este fue el primer encuentro de Fernando con Kcho luego de su regreso a la Patria el pasado 28 de febrero tras cumplir íntegramente su condena de 15 años, 5 meses y 15 días.
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.

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No agradezcan el silencio será inaugurada próximamente en el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Sus dimensiones, las rejas y candados, las cámaras de seguridad y la presencia de objetos similares a los empleados en El Hueco, multiplican el realismo de la obra.
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.

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Entre las piezas que multiplican el realismo de No agradezcan el silencio destacan el aro con múltiples llaves (ver mano derecha de Kcho) y la “línea” que consistía en una larga cuerda hecha con un pedazo de sábana a la que se ataban en la punta un tubo de pasta vacío (ver mano izquierda de René), esta servía para pasarse, por debajo de la puerta y a toda velocidad, “revistas y un montón de cosas más”, según testimonio de Antonio Guerrero en la serie de acuarelas Yo me muero como viví.
Among the pieces that multiply the realism of No agradezcan el silencio (Do not thank the silence) highlights the ring with many keys (see Kcho’s right hand) and the “line” that consisted on a long rope made of a piece of sheet with an empty toothpaste tube (see Rene’s left hand), and was to pass through, under the door and at all speed, “magazines and a lot of things more,” according to a testimony of Antonio Guerrero in the series of watercolors Yo me muero como viví (I will die as I lived).

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