Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES – Censorship in Cuba’s art world has been retreating in recent years, which is why it’s sudden and merciless reappearance can sometimes take us aback, striking as something both ridiculous and senseless. I had such an experience recently at Havana’s Fine Arts Museum.
When I visited the Cuban Art building, I was pleasantly surprised to run into a piece I consider a classic: Carlos Alberto Estevez’ “La verdadera historia universal” (True Universal History), a kind of interactive puppet stage where a broad range of historical figures can be placed.
I was happy to run into the piece, which is highly suggestive for me: the spectator, the consumer of art, can approach the stage and place the individuals they consider worthy of the limelight there, removing those they feel should not be there.
On this occasion, when I approached the piece, I saw that the following figures presided over the stage: Fidel Castro, Jose Marti, Karl Marx, Lenin and Jesus Christ.
The selection struck me as ludicrously biased, ideological, sexist and racist. Bold as brass, I decided to interact with the work: I removed Fidel Castro, Marx, Lenin and Jesus Christ and placed Gandhi, a black woman I don’t know and Chaplin (I believe) in their place, but I was unable to continue.
One of the guards there got very upset, approached me and told me I couldn’t do that – that the pieces couldn’t be touched. I explained that the piece was interactive and that the public’s participation was part of its concept.
Hearing me protest, another (apparently more experienced) guard approached me and, in a soft tone of voice, explained to me that, owing to the piece’s poor state of conservation – the piece had had to be restored as it was being torn from the wall by use) they had restricted the public’s interaction with it.
The explanation neutralized me for a moment, but the ignorant hand of censorship made itself known immediately: the first guard removed the figures I had placed on the stage and (risking damaging the piece) placed the exact same figures that were there before.
She was only missing one. She turned towards the other guard and asked her: “I’m missing one, right? That saint, what was his name?” She was referring to Jesus Christ!
Immediately, she found the figure, buried among dozens of other figures she didn’t know, rescuing it from the mass to place next to Fidel Castro, Marx, Lenin and Marti and dispel any doubts about what true, universal history is for Cubans.
Is Carlos Alberto Estevez aware of the censorship his piece is suffering in the Fine Arts Museum?
Might he be able to put together some resistant screws to secure the piece more firmly to the wall?
At any rate, I invite Havana Times readers to visit the museum and try to participate in the construction of a universal history different from that of the established powers. From experience, I can tell you that censorship, being both apolitical and immoral, does not stand the test of time.