by Will Furtado for Contemporary And (C&)
From the outset, the 13th Havana Biennial – the Construction of the Possible – was haunted by the specter of a new law aimed at controlling artistic production. During the course of the event, many incidents of censorship took place. Ibrahim Ahmed and Carlos Martiel – two artists who had their work censored and even destroyed – speak to C& about their experiences
(…) Carlos Martiel is another artist at the biennial whose work was censored. In his durational performance La sangre de Caín (Caín’s blood), the Cuban artist stands inside of a circular metal structure with threads dipped in the blood of artists (including his own) who are openly against the Decree 349. “In the initial project, I told them I was planning to use the blood of people who are marginalized in Cuba,” Martiel tells me. “And they never asked me for any other details.”
Once the curators found out the full motivation behind the piece, they suspended all support to the artist who had to install the piece by himself for five hours in the sun. Martiel did manage to stage the performance but on the following day he was asked to meet the Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas, and shortly after the installation and the label of his work were removed and destroyed.
During their meeting, the Vice Minister explained that during the performance people were heard shouting anti-Decree 349 slogans, something that did not actually occur. He then concluded that Martiel’s work did not make any sense because the decree was not in effect. However, law implementation aside, Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was arrested multiple times in April in connection with his performance in which he and two other persons wore US flags as capes. Coco Fusco, who has written about the incident concerning Martiel, was denied entrance to the country for presumably criticizing the same law.
Despite positioning itself as a platform for justice and equality, the Havana Biennial is failing to keep its promise by exercising intimidation and censorship. Yet, these tactics can only harm the institution itself, as local and international artists and press refuse to ignore institutional abuse (…)
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