5ght 4 Ustice

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Location: Ciudad Habana, Cuba

"The cuban people reclaim those men,and we will not remain calmed untill there're back"

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

An inspiring exhibition

ONES prison cell is no workshop for an artist. It is not that unlimited space in view, full of light and, centrally, of freedom. Antonio (Tony) Guerrero, a man of exceptional will and sensibility, has overturned that idea.
In his indefatigable intellectual restlessness (poems, letters and a plea to the court of high-flying ethics and aesthetics)Tony, one of the five Cubans incarcerated for nearly eight years now in U.S. jails, has initiated his entry into the world of visual arts.
The result is an exhibition Mensaje de cubanía (An Essentially Cuban Message), comprising 14 pastel portraits in the Carmen Montilla Gallery, which came into the hands of Eusebio Leal, city historian, via Guerrero’s family.
They are portraits of heroes and martyrs of Cuban struggles in the 19th and 20th centuries and Tony himself, in a beautiful letter to Leal (March 28, 2006), explains how he became interested in painting in the first place and then was able to create them.
"Last year an inmate arrived at this prison with excellent skills in pastel painting… At one point he showed me one of his works and I was impressed by what could be done with pastels. He offered… to give classes… I decided to be part of the group… the class never began."
That was not an obstacle. Tony tried by himself. Self-taught. Drawing and "thanks to a book and a magazine that a dear friend from New York sent me."
In his letter to Leal, reproduced on the exhibition leaflet, he explains that after managing to get hold of "a bit of paper" he decided to do a portrait of Che Guevara. As a guideline, he took "a photo of a magnificent painting that Aliucha (Che’s daughter) had sent me… it contained the color contrasts that would make my initial attempt easier. Thus came this portrait, which is the last, historically, of the series, the first one that I did, for the first time in my life, using pastels."
After searches through magazines and in other ways – "… a postcard that a friend from Cuba sent me with a painting of José Martí. That was my second work…"and his sister Maruchy sent him "the Cien Años de Lucha (One Hundred Years of Struggle) series of stamps from 1968" – concluded the series.
In a very detailed and organized way, Tony notes in his letter the order in which he painted the portraits: Che, Martí, Ignacio Agramonte, Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Antonio Maceo, Máximo Gómez, Frank País, Rubén Martínez Villena, Julio Antonio Mella, Antonio Guiteras, Abel Santamaría, José Antonio, Calixto García and Camilo (Cienfuegos).
Of great intellectual stature this young man, an engineer by profession, writes: "Sincerely, I think that artistically speaking, this isn’t about meritorious quality. Just from the little that I have been able to see… however, with that, I can see that I have still many, many things to learn in terms of pastel drawing… But more, Eusebio, the greatest value of this work is that it is another demonstration of the patriotic values of the 5 (because everything that we do represents us as five brothers and sons of a heroic and worthy people)."
Painting in pastels is an innovation, never mind trying portraits and drawing, as María Eugenia (Maruchy) confided to this publication in an aside during the inauguration.
"Tony started in prison. He told us that one day they gave him a cellmate who was a young guy of Puerto Rican-U.S. origin who painted portraits, and he asked him to teach him the technique, using pencil, and the first thing that he did, with a portrait of our mom, was to draw her face lightly in back and white; then he did our grandmother, our dad. Then he got to know another prisoner who did pastel paintings and that is the history of these 14 portraits."
Maruchy, who was allowed to visit her brother recently after more than six years without seeing him added that, "before that, he did a series of Cuba’s 21 endemic birds; we have them at home because he wanted us to keep them."
(from Granma International )

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