“I think this is a great victory to get us visas and be in a space of happiness,” said Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcàntara arriving at a ceremony to collect his Index on Censorship arts award, after a 7-month fight to get a UK visa.
“Artists are like all people; they have a very important function. Like how the song of an artist can reach millions of people and make them cry, a picture from a visual artist can transform the feeling of what is happening in a country. This is something an artist has to take responsibility for.”
Alcàntara and Yanelys Nuñez Levya, the winners of this year’s Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards for Arts, finally received their award on October 18th at Metal arts centre in Chalkwell Hall, Southend.
Alcàntara and Nuñez are the founders of The Museum of Dissidence, a public art project and website celebrating dissent in Cuba, and went through a lengthy battle to gain visas for entry into the UK. Previously, the activists were scheduled to receive their honours in April. Fellowships and Advocacy officer Perla Hinojosa, who played a pivotal role in the campaigning for the activists’ visas, called it a “triumph”.
Hinojosa said: “It’s a triumph for activism because you see that if you speak out, if you talk about the wrongs and make them right, it happens. I think this was a positive for everyone, even the UK embassy in Cuba. I am really glad they re-evaluated their decision because now people are able to see the work – and the activism – that these artists do, and the great meaning that they have for the future of Cuba.”
The Museum of Dissidence has faced opposition, criticism and even imprisonment for its art and activism in Cuba, therefore Nuñez said it came as a surprise to find their work was acclaimed internationally.
In August Cuban authorities arrested Alcàntara and Nuñez for their roles in organising a concert against Decree 349, a law that is set to come into play on December 1st and will give the Cuban Ministry of Culture increased power to censor art display and exchange. The pair were beaten in detention.
Speaking about her initial reaction, she said: “We are very happy to be here and share with you our brilliant ideas and how we feel like artists being in Cuba. When we heard we had received the award at Index – we are so disconnected from the world, you know? We don’t have internet; we don’t have access to information. It was very complicated to understand that some people outside, abroad, know about us.”
Jodie Ginsberg, Index’s CEO, said: “Our art winners were not with us because the British government chose not to give them a visa. We are not ones to be easily defeated, and we are so grateful to be working with Colette, Syd and Metal, who gave us another opportunity to have an excuse to bring our winners to the UK.”