Danilo Maldonado Machado, better known as the graffiti artist by the moniker El Sexto, has finally been freed, after spending ten months in prison without trial. Last year, on December 25th, El Sexto was arrested and jailed for his attempt to exhibit two pigs with the names of the Cuban revolutionary leaders painted on their backs. After several hunger strikes and support from the numerous human rights organizations and fellow artists, Danilo Maldonado was released from the Havana’s Valle Grande Prison last Thursday. According to the release document, the artist’s freedom is unconditional and he will not await trial for the last year’s arrest.
The arrest that happened last December in only one in the line of El Sexto’s confrontations with the Cuban Government. Social activist and artist, El Sexto has criticized the Castro regime frequently in the past and because of that, he was detained under various pretexts. The numerous arrests and his volatile attitude towards the Castro regime have brought him the title of the most prosecuted Cuban artist. The arrest which happened last Christmas was probably the most peculiar one. While preparing the performance Animal Farm, El Sexto painted two pigs in green with red inscriptions of the names Fidel and Raul, obviously referring to the Cuban revolutionary leader, and his brother who has been leading the state since 2008. El Sexto intended to release the pigs as part of his performance in Havana’s Central Park, but pigs and the artist never made it to the show, as El Sexto was arrested as he drove to the Park and imprisoned without trial for disrespect of the leaders of the revolution.
After his imprisonment, many human rights activists raised their voices in support of Maldonado. After Tania Bruguera’s arrest, Maldonado’s case was next in line to open discussions on the freedom of speech policies in Cuba. Last year in September, Amnesty International declared El Sexto the country’s only prisoner of consciousness and the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba called him a political prisoner demanding his immediate release. The fellow artists were also actively protesting his arrest showing their solidarity on numerous occasions, perhaps the most significant being their boycott of Havana Biennial this March. Even the president of the US raised his voice in support of the artist during the Summit of the Americas this April. Danilo Maldonado was also awarded the International Vaclav Havel Prize for creative dissidence.
Those who have been following the entanglements of the events regarding Tania Bruguera's arrest know well how far is Cuba from reaching the elementary rights of artistic freedom of expression. With the decades-long history of censorship and political imprisonments, the arrest of El Sexto comes as no surprise. And the most paradoxical thing about his arrest is that the performance he was charged with never actually happened, showing the absurdity of the whole case. The graffiti artist is now free, and planning his trip to the United States, but the questions of unrightfully detained activists and censorship in art remain one of the major problems in Cuba.
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Danilo Maldonado Machado aka El Sexto portrait. Photo via voiceproject.org