Yanelys Nunez Leyva
HAVANA TIMES — Something is about to happen in the Colon neighborhood, there’s a certain smell of recently mixed paint. You can hear discreet footsteps at night. People don’t understand why they are gathering here in this area, but there they are: on the Paseo del Prado, with their skateboards, or in a semi-propped up, semi-dirty, semi-community workshop; listening to rap, electronic music, scribbling on cardboard, canvasses, selling souvenirs; wearing nose rings, drawing tattoos on each other’s bodies. Smiling carefree, while drinking a plastic bottle of rum down.
People don’t understand when it all began. Danilo Maldonado, even though he managed to sign “El Sexto” on the Fine Arts Museum facade, wasn’t so close to them so as to mobilize these young men. Maybe it started with Five Stars instead, first going out onto the street with Yulier P. and then with Fabian.
But, Yairan (Five Stars) left for Germany at some point, where he continues to work, so Yuly, losing all of his stage fright, took up the city’s writing material. He multiplied his shapeless figures under the nomenclature “P14”, “P15”, “P16” (the numbers of Havana bus lines).
After several attempts, Fabian found his hooded jumper, his fried egg and his unequal math calculation: 2+2=5. He did his first graffiti on January 13, 2016. He hasn’t forgotten it. And he promises to celebrate it on its anniversary every year.
The majority of these vandals don’t come from art academies, except for some such as Luis, who graduated from Cuba’s National Arts School (ISA) in 2012, who is also one of the few graffiti artists who also exhibit their work on the gallery circuit, under artist Juan Carlos Alom’s patronage. Within this group, there are other graffiti artists who prefer to remain anonymous, like the one who calls himself Musashi, the creator of shacks who dream of becoming solid houses.
The rest of them are real slum dwellers.
However, the real difference between them could be considered from a political viewpoint. One group of graffiti artists mutter criticism about the system in force here in Cuba without marking their graffitis and recontextualizing the image of national heroes. As a result, we can find Marti loving free wifi, and Che proclaiming …imperialism, not giving an inch. Martyrs in these representations, from the accurate reproduction of the screen, reach the people again with their concerns.
In this group, we should also include those who show their faces: first of all El Sexto, who is internationally recognized for his activism; and Yulier P., who has been pressured several times recently because of him stating on independent media platforms that his work reflects the things that are bad in Cuba.
The other group uses tags (Allie) or anthropomorphic figures (monkeys, monsters) and falls back on the term “social” when they have to defend their work as if they were eliminating all political connotations in this way. Each and every one of them has their own very particular philosophy: the zombification of the city, racial discrimination, antidepressant mechanisms, Illuminati symbology, freemasons, Christianity; however, they aren’t interested in being classified within so-called “political art”.
However, the government doesn’t understand this and wants to convert them all into public dissidents. They fine them, they label them “vandals”, they take away their materials, they threaten them, the force them to erase whatever they paint. And this, instead of bothering these young people who need an adrenaline rush at this age, becomes fun.
The purpose of Vandalizing State Property, an event which draws a map of the graffiti that currently exists in the Colon neighborhood in Havana is to openly exhibit these young men’s artistic intentions rather than to defend their work.
It takes the Parche rosa sucio, muestra de graffiti habanero as its precedent, which took place between September 15th and November 18th 2012, created by the Cristo Salvador Gallery. Belonging to the Museum of Dissidence, this project tries to make Cuba’s new wave of graffiti artists visible and to break down the authorities’ intolerance of this art form, as they don’t allow these works to be made outside of their extreme control.
Without having progressed as an unfirm group, the graffiti that can be seen on the Colon neighborhood’s walls, where the majority of works are located, is becoming an entity for progress. Foreign crews who come and visit the island, such as 1UP (Germany), or APC (Colombia), or CBS (The United States), approach them and they generously share the walls with them. Their paths are all different; they have unbelievable philosophies, imaginary figures and grim social criticism. However, the most important thing here is that they are building a space for opinions, for enjoyment and for anger.