I Stand with the Reviled Cuban Painter Pedro Pablo Oliva

Lazaro Gonzalez

Pedro Pablo Oliva and one of his works. Photo: pedropablooliva.com

HAVANA TIMES, June 9 — Like artist Pedro Pablo Oliva, I am a dreamer.  I state this with one knee on the ground.

With deep roots anchored in the soil, I cling to my dreams like multicolored kites that discern a better future while in the middle of the dictatorship of the one-eyed and color blind.

Otherwise black or white seem to say everything everywhere, determined to cut those invisible kite strings of a handful of us “grays” and seize our ideals.

At times I’m overwhelmed by the gales of injustice that thrash the world and, much more, by humanity’s astounding inertia.  Ideological representations of power are potent and effective in their gymnastics of hegemony aimed at achieving their much desired consensus and passive dissent.

In any system, to undo the gags and straightjackets that fetter the natural confrontation of aspirations, objectives, beliefs, identities and initiatives, resistance — in short — implies a careful study of the hidden or unhidden mechanisms of circulation and the reproduction of power, as well as their ideological apparatuses, structures of domination and symbolic bases.

Only like this will we understand the need to fasten to the soul the kite strings, to straighten them should they truncate us and, beyond this, to patiently reduce the distance that separates those who long for the comets of our terrestrial reality.

Pedro Pablo Oliva. Photo: Pedro Pablo Oliva.com

A sword of honesty

In that desire to reconcile the horizon with the essences of life, it’s encouraging to get to know a prestigious community artist of the stature of Pedro Pablo Oliva (Pinar del Rio, 1949). This national award-winning visual artist and self-made chronicler of his time recently expressed his opinions with all sincerity in the public light.

Moreover, he assumed the consequences of his alleged courage, and being pushed to the side by those who accused him of being a “dissident” “counter-revolutionary,” a “traitor” and an “annexationist” simply for differing from the official discourse concerning certain aspects of the political system under which we live (such as one-party politics).

In consonance with his artistic work — where he captures arrogance, placidness, love, tenderness, lust, meanness, cruelty and the sublime, among other themes — Pedro Pablo’s words today testify to a deep love for the nation, a critical spirit and the longing to overcome problems and injustices that affect the ordinary person.  He strives to get “closer to the truth,” as he has said.

Although I don’t share all of his opinions or agree with the places where he chose to publish them, I am a fervent defender of the freedom of speech.   I believe that a mistake was again made by those who are now castigating that illustrious citizen of this country for exercising his right to speak, criticize and question when he understood it to be necessary, and doing so with respectfulness and gratitude.

“I am a painter, a creator, I recognize this, thanks to the fact of the revolution itself,” as Pedro Pablo acknowledged in a radio interview granted to Edmundo Garcia for the program La tarde se mueve, broadcast from Miami.

Worrisome silence

Although the painter accepts that with his statements he violated the code of ethics of the Provincial Assembly of the Popular Power in Pinar del Rio Province (where he was a representative), it’s quite worrisome that not a single delegate of that legislative body dared to at least intervene in the scandalous attack against Pedro Pablo to somehow prevent him from being branded with such serious epithets only for publishing in opposition spaces or having associations with counter-revolutionary individuals.  Who’s afraid of this big bad wolf?

In their monotonic soliloquy, the short-sighted of intellect fail to release that they can’t silence diversity (at least not that of thought) for very long.  Those who fear the free exercise of opinions and who indiscriminately punish critical voices -all in the name of an uninspiring and an impossibly homogeneous ideological unity-, do no more than promote a lethal carcinoma within the social body with their double standards, which are notably multifaceted in the case of Cuba.

One needs only wander the streets of any city in this country with an open ear to verify the polychromatic plurality of ideas and the dissimilar tones that in state-run spaces shamelessly masquerade like mechanical penguins in their uniform black-and-white unanimity, incredibly still in the style of the obsolete and failed Soviet socialist model.

Where this noxious dichotomy can be most easily seen is in the home, in the refuge of family complicity.  In that environment the reins are usually free to expressions of great dissatisfaction, disagreement, diatribes and even satires of the political system and some of our leaders.  That occurs, in the majority of the cases stealthily and in low voices, because many Cubans still have not shed themselves of that strange and not so groundless sensation that they are constantly being watched.

It is to such a point that an iron-tight muzzle is maintained on the expression of differences.  But when faced almost daily with insignificant criticisms of the government, the party or political figures I myself am amazed in hearing frank expressions of astonishment: “But he dared say what?  He must have gone crazy.”

Fortunately, the Internet and the new technologies have appeared on the scene to assist the few “crazies” who dare to proclaim their counter-current ideas, challenging the monolithic big stick of the bureaucracy, that obstinate repressor of otherness.

Although the Web continues being a limited space for public opinion in Cuba, given the precarious access by the common citizen to that network of networks, this technological platform has been of much help in bringing our distant kites a bit closer.

While Cuban society stretches itself over this lingering expressive lethargy, there has arrived a modest backing for Oliva, that gentleman bearing all the force and luster of the sword of honesty.

My hope is that these lines, born of a true socialist conviction, serve to inspire and encourage his paintbrushes, comets and magic.  Like him, I remain on this this real and wonderful earth “to continue dreaming of a better country.”

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