The Cuban Museum of Dissent Presented in El Cerro, Havana

Yanelys Nunez Leyva

Presentation of the Museum of Dissent in the Havana municipality of Cerro.

HAVANA TIMES — Without promoting the event too much on digital platforms, we were able to present the Cuban Museum of Dissent on July 25th, on the eve of National Rebellion day.

At this time of year, local festivities are very common, which is why we decided to develop our event, using the same ritual which these festivities flaunt: having a good time with the latest musical hits, caldosa stew and rum which people share and enjoy on the street.

In order to do this, we specifically chose Romay Street between Monte and Zequeira Streets, where one of the Museum’s creators, Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, lives. We had thought about a lot of different options, like independent galleries, government institutions or some kind of political activist’s home[1], but we decided it would be healthier if we chose a neutral space, and where’s better than where you live?

Furthermore, Luis Manuel is known as an artist in this neighborhood, everybody appreciates his work as a papier mache teacher for children; as a sculptor who sculpts figures using different materials; as the manager of a fruitless – according to the authorities – decoration project where he paints the houses next to his own, using graffiti, uniting mural painting with the cultural imagination of his neighbors.

Without a doubt, this would help with the level of sympathy people would have towards our project, so we took advantage of his reputation, this legitimacy, to launch a more complex and provocative project like the Museum of Dissent is. In this way, we began the reformative and educational task that our project proposes.

We invited all of our colleagues in the art world, and although not all of the ones we were hoping would attend came, the ones who normally support us in the crazy ventures we sometimes get involved in did come.

The event was set to kick off at 8pm, but we began an hour later, waiting for it to get dark enough so that everyone could enjoy the projection the Museum’s trailer properly.

We set up the platform in a rustic and simple way: a white sheet put up as a screen on Luis’ house, a small projector and a large pot where we cooked the caldosa in front of his front door.

We were commenting on what the project’s objectives were for over twenty minutes. Neighbors watched on, puzzled by it all, but nobody openly asked questions, only afterwards, when we were a smaller group, did we hear some people’s concerns. Like that of a neighbor regarding the Ladies in White activist who lives only a few meters away from the place where we held the presentation. The person said that it caused a strange kind of tension for them, in case the two events were connected in some way.

However, people’s comfort levels increased when, via the dialogue between some of our guests – journalists, artists, history and art experts – and neighbors, we were able to analyze the roots of both of these phenomena.

Fortunately, it was a peaceful night, there were no police patrols that came to inquire, nor State Security agents disguised as ordinary spectators who all of a sudden would intervene. Nothing. Everybody ate caldosa, we played music until a little after 11pm, as the law dictates, and then we finished the party behind closed doors, talking softly, like good citizens should.

We exchanged a lot of ideas, we had fun, we missed those who out of fear hadn’t accepted our invitation, and we inaugurated our project which has had a very rocky beginning, in an optimistic light.

With this presentation, we saw how the Museum works, in its “off-line” version.

And the fact that we didn’t draw a lot of attention to what we were doing in the street, I think has created a certain level of confidence among those present, who were able to breath for a brief moment, the illusory (?) air of greater freedom.
[1] Every one of these options had their own cons which forced us to reject them. For instance, in the case of independent galleries and government institutions, it was very likely that they wouldn’t accept our project because of what it is. On the other hand, holding the presentation at a dissident’s home, which the government knows about, would only put our project on the extreme end of things, which isn’t what we wanted. In any case, we wanted to be the only ones responsible for what would happen and wanted to avoid getting people involved who, because they helped us, would then be made to feel endangered by the government.