The UK has overturned a decision to refuse visas to two award-winning Cuban artists who had been invited to take up a two-week artistic residency in Britain.
Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Yanelys Nuñez Leyva, winners of this year’s Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards for Arts, were told last month their visa request had been denied — the second refusal this year. The artists had been scheduled to attend Index’s award ceremony in London in April but were denied visas to attend.
Alcántara and Nunez are founders of The Museum of Dissidence, a public art project and website celebrating dissent in Cuba. Set up in 2016, the museum organises radical public art projects and installations, concentrated in the poorer districts of Havana. This year, the two have been granted visas to Argentina, Chile, the Czech Republic, and the United States.
They were called to the UK embassy in Havana on October 2 and told the visa would be granted after all having “reevaluated” their application.
Jodie Ginsberg, Index on Censorship chief executive said: “Fortunately the UK has realised its mistake and reversed what was clearly an unfair decision. Government ministers talk repeatedly of freedom of speech as a key British value so it’s critical the UK demonstrates it in practice. Denying visas to artists who have faced oppression in their own countries for speaking out simply emboldens the oppressor.”
Last month, Cuban authorities arrested Nuñez and Alcantara for their role in organising a concert against Decree 349, a vague law that will give the government more control over the display and exchange of art. The law, due to come into force on 1 December 2018, gives the Ministry of Culture increased power to censor, issue fines and confiscate materials for work of which they do not approve. The pair were beaten during their detention.
It was the second arrest in three weeks for Alcantara in relation to Decree 349.
Nunez and Alcantara – will now be able to take up most of their planned two-week residency in Southend with Metal, an organisation that champions artistic innovation and provides practical support to artists, as well as receive in person their Freedom of Expression Award.
Colette Bailey, CEO and Artistic Director of Metal, said: “Metal are absolutely delighted that the decision not to allow Nunez and Alcantara to visit the UK as part of an artistic exchange has been overturned. We are very excited to welcome them in the coming weeks to Southend on Sea as part of our International Artists in Residence programme and are now busy preparing for their stay during which they will meet our local and regional artistic communities.”
Nunez and Alcantara were originally refused their visas on the grounds of insufficient evidence they would be able to support themselves financially during their stay.
“We had provided ample evidence of the support they would receive and that Index would stand as guarantor,” said Index on Censorship’s fellowships and advocacy officer Perla Hinojosa. “We have run our awards for nearly 20 years and never had any of our winners overstay or breach their visa terms. We’re so pleased the UK recognised how important it is to be able to welcome groups like the Museum of Dissidence to the UK.”
In August, directors of some of Britain’s biggest festivals signed a letter calling for the government to make its “overly complex” visa application process more transparent, after a surge in refusals and complications for authors, artists and musicians invited to perform in the UK.