Prominent Cuban and Cuban American artists including Tania Bruguera and Coco Fusco have signed an open letter urging the international art community to boycott cultural events sponsored by the Cuban government in light of its “repression of its artists, its persistent human rights violations and the country’s humanitarian crisis.”
“Instead of guaranteeing Cubans’ freedom of expression, the presence of foreign personalities from the art world contributes to sustaining the myth of the Cuban revolution as a provider of culture,” the letter, first published in Hyperallergic, reads. The 24 signatories—which also includes Hamlet Lavastida and Sandra Ceballos—add that it is vital that “foreigners recognize that the repression of artists is carried out by the same cultural bureaucrats who welcome them to the island, introduce them to a select number of trusted artists and arrange their visits to state-run art galleries.”
The signatories also highlight what they consider inadequate international attention to the plight of Cubans in comparison to concurrent crises, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the recent removal of Defne Ayas as curator of the 2024 Istanbul Biennial. Cuba has not “received enough scrutiny to provoke similar concern about the ethics of cooperating with the Cuban state.”
The letter calls for the boycott of government-funded cultural events in Cuba, with a particular focus on the Havana Art Weekend set to be open in November, which is described by its official website as a “vibrant four-day extravaganza that transforms Havana into an international hub for art enthusiasts and professionals alike.” In a statement to the Art Newspaper, the organizers of Havana Art Weekend rejected claims of any government links.
“Havana Art Weekend is an independent initiative with no affiliations or sponsorships from the Cuban Ministry of Culture or the Cuban government,” they said, adding that they are “maintaining [the event’s] independent nature by hosting the program exclusively in artists’ private studios and other non-governmental spaces.”
The signatories, however, stress the scope of the government’s repression and maintain institutional accountability. “It is imperative that foreigners recognise that the repression of artists is carried out by the same cultural bureaucrats who welcome them to the island, introduce them to a select number of trusted artists and arrange their visits to state-run art galleries,” the letter reads.
Cuba has been in a state of social and political upheaval since the pandemic, when the diving standard of living and crackdown on free speech spurred thousands to march in historic, island-wide anti-government demonstrations. Hundreds of protesters and bystanders were arrested during the largely peaceful protests throughout Cuba. Some of the people who were detained are still in judicial proceedings, according to the Human Rights Watch. The open letter says that “more than 1,000 political prisoners are currently serving outrageously long sentences for peaceful protest, and among them are several of our fellow artists.”
In July, the Cuban artist and activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who has been imprisoned in Cuba for two years, appealed to “people of conscience around the world to support our struggle to liberate ourselves and our country” in a letter published in the Miami Herald newspaper. Otero Alcántara, 34, is detained in Guanajay, a maximum-security prison south of Havana. His sentencing was condemned by Amnesty International as “emblematic” of how Cuba’s current regime “uses the judicial system to criminalize critical voices.”
According to Hyperallergic, a new penal code includes more severe censorship of media and legal consequences for obliquely defined anti-government behavior.
“The new penal code stipulates that Cuban citizens can be imprisoned for up to two years for posting criticism of the government on social media, receiving outside funding for independent cultural activities, or engaging in activities that could be construed as interference in government operations,” says the letter.