Cuban artists protest government restrictions

On the fringes of the Havana Biennial, Cuba’s government-sanctioned art festival, Cuban artists are protesting a recent law requiring them to get government permission to perform, sell or display their work, according to a Reuters story published by Voice of America.

The Biennial is a month-long art show held every two years in Havana’s museums, galleries and public spaces. The 13th iteration runs from April 12 through May 12.

The law, Decree 349, stipulates that artists must belong to a state-sanctioned organization that regulates wages for performances and the price of art. Selling art or performing for money without the Cuban government’s permission is a crime. Anyone who pays an artist for his or her work without that permission is subject to fines, and the work will be canceled, confiscated or destroyed.

Two people, one sitting on tree branch, with flying birds between them (David D Omni)
“Singers,” by David D Omni (Courtesy David D Omni)

“Those who have protested the decree, or dared to stage independent exhibits and performances the regime deemed ‘counterrevolutionary,’ have been imprisoned,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Jon Piechowski of the State Department. “Cuban artists are celebrated around the world, and many consider this infringement on their freedom of expression an indignity.”

Triptych of three prints: a long-haired woman by a tree, an old woman reaching for food set high atop block with dollar sign, a profile of a woman (David D Omni; Yasser Castellanos; Gabriel Coto)
From left, “Compasión,” by David D Omni (Courtesy David D Omni); “Por las nubes,” by Yasser Castellanos (Courtesy Yasser Castellanos); “Untitled,” by Gabriel Coto (Courtesy Gabriel Coto)

Cuba’s independent art scene is boycotting the 13th Havana Biennial and showcasing works produced without approval, including some content that — according to Decree 349 — violates the legal provisions that regulate the normal development of Cuban society in cultural matters.

Death holding scythe and spray-painting the numbers 349 on a wall (Yasser Castellanos)
“349,” by Yasser Castellanos (Courtesy Yasser Castellanos)

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