Sandra Ceballos, one of Cuba's leading artistic figures in the late 20th century, and a pioneer of "apartment art" in the country, has sent a letter via email to Cuban artists and intellectuals in which she voices her opposition to Decree 349.
The text, which was published by the artist Amaury Pacheco on his Facebook profile, states that: "Cuban artists and intellectuals have to unite. Cuban artists and intellectuals cannot remain passive in the face of such ignominy and repression. In many parts of the world people have the right to disagree, and to demand justice and changes. There is also the right to demonstrate and to strike. Of course, in places where there is democracy and the man's individual thought is respected."
The letter from Ceballos is the second to be published this week against Decree 349. This Tuesday there began a campaign to collect signatures backing a document that rejects the measure, which censors independent artistic expression in Cuba.
Ceballos warns that, although most "artists and intellectuals do not agree in their entirety with Decree Law 349," they express their disagreement "behind the scenes, and nobody steps forward."
"However," she continues, "there is a group of artists who are protesting and are being repressed, imprisoned and injured. They are accused of being delinquents and mediocre, a strategy that is utterly vulgar and pathetic. Most are young intellectuals and artists who are standing up for us, as we protect our economic assets and properties, international events, and domestic tranquility. What a disgrace!"
The artist cites the cases of Amaury Pacheco and his wife Iris (both with the Omni Zonafranca project), who "have four children, languish under precarious conditions, and still dare to defend our cause. And Yanelys Núñez and Luis Manuel Otero, who has created performance, installation and sculpture works for several years now."
"Undoubtedly, they are fighting for the right to the independence of ideals, to disagree, to choose, which are nothing more than human rights."
Ceballos describes the repression last Saturday at the concert organized by these and other artists in the district of San Isidro as a demonstration showing the world of "the violence and mistreatment perpetrated by the Cuban authorities against artists. But something very shocking happened: the community's residents rose up to defend the artists, and expressed their outrage at the actions taken against them."
Ceballos concludes that: "Ultimately, repression generates rebellion. Violence begets violence."
In her statement the artist warns her readers about the risk artistic expression runs in Cuba under such circumstances: "If we do not unite we will end up having to ask permission to hang works on the walls of our homes and studios, and one day they will break in to our houses to remove our equipment and personal belongings. We will have to present a proposal to the authorities just to hold parties. It will be necessary to ask the institutions what themes we can address in our works. We will have to forget that patriotic symbols represent us. We will have to look at them as something unattainable, untouchable, alien."
She adds: "We will have to grovel so as not to lose our legal status at the Creators' Registry. We artists who do not belong to the small institutional sector will end up selling pizzas or churros; or worse, painting slogans and almendrones (Cuba’s iconic old taxis). This is going to end very badly if we continue to allow them to mistreat those who are speaking out on our behalf, if we do not support them."
Ceballos concludes: "I ask myself where the Cuban intellectuals and artists are, the fighting spirit that Maceo taught us. Where are Cubans' solidarity and dignity? How long will we be restrained by our ambition and selfishness? Will we have to wait until there are bodies in ditches, or more ‘accidents’? We must go to the institutions and express our dissent. We must sign the letter against the 349 that is circulating on the Internet. We cannot let them drive us apart by sowing distrust and fear among us. We must not give in to blackmail and threats."
She ends: "If we do not unite, we will end up saying, all together: 'Happy New 1960!'"
Since 1994 Sandra Ceballos has headed up Espacio Aglutinador, the first independent space for art founded in Cuba, established in the artist's own house. Both its exhibition programs and artistic exchange projects have been censored over the years by Cuban authorities.
Artists addressing political issues, whose work is not considered commercially viable, and initiatives that are not affiliated with the official Cuban circuit, have found a place there.
Cuban artists such as Tania Bruguera, Alexandre Arrechea and Carlos Garaicoa have exhibited their works at Aglutinador. The facility has also hosted exhibitions featuring international artists such as Santiago Sierra, Ana Mendieta, Ros Bleckner, Jack Pierson, William Córdova and Leslie Hewitt, among others.