Cuban Dissident Artist/Tagger El Sexto at South Beach's Market Gallery
El Sexto's weapon of choice, an aerosol spray can.
This Thursday, Danilo Maldonado Machado, a Cuban visual and performance artist known as "El Sexto," will premiere "Pork," an exhibition at the Market Gallery on Alton Road in Miami Beach. He calls it a "raucous carnival for the mind, body, and soul." There will be new paintings, a surprise performance piece, and live music.
Maldonado, who is nearing the end of a three-month visit to Miami, is one of the island’s most controversial artists. He was arrested Christmas Day 2014 in Havana while riding in a taxi on the Malecón, Cuba’s famed waterfront passageway.
He was en route to a display of "Rebelión en la Granja," his take on George Orwell’s dystopian Animal Farm, when police officers stopped the car. They demanded the driver take them to Parque Central, where Maldonado was exhibiting the piece. Once there, the cops discovered two live pigs spray-painted "Raúl" and "Fidel."
"Some of the officers laughed; others just didn't know what to do," Maldonado says. "The message was first to have fun, to laugh. Funny things get to people more easily. And that really demonstrated the power of art — you can dismantle their castle of sand."
That performance piece is typical of Maldonado. He calls himself atrevido (daring) and wishes other Cuban artists would use their platforms as boldly.
El Sexto's Instagram painting
The artist was incarcerated without trial in Cuba's Valle Grande prison for ten months. While he was inside, his work caught the attention of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), a nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally. Last May, the foundation deemed him a "prisoner of conscience" and awarded him the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent.
After a powerful campaign for his liberation led by HRF, Cuban rock band Gorki, and other close friends and family members, he was finally released this past October. He applied for a visa to visit the United States, which was surprisingly granted, and since November, he has been living in a cozy Little Haiti studio while working on his first stateside exhibit. "You shouldn't be jailed for creating art," Maldonado says. "It was hard being in there, but I believe it happened to me so I could demonstrate these injustices."
"Pork" will feature a wide display of Maldonado's work, including sketches he created while in prison. With just a pencil and pen, he has depicted his situation with raw terror. Art has always come naturally to the Camagüeyano. At 9 years old, he recalls, he drew a caricature of Fidel Castro wearing a green uniform with a monkey’s head.
“My mom became very nervous, and she said I couldn’t paint that, and I had to ask why. If I’ve always painted, why would I not be able to paint that?” Maldonado says.
He says the spray can found him while he was growing up on the streets, but since then, Maldonado has become Cuba’s Banksy. At 25, he began signing his name on walls, plastering flyers with his face, and stenciling his demands for change. His more recent pieces take aim at conflicted self-representation. A piece titled Instagram shows a dressed-up pig projecting its soul onto an Instagram frame. Since there is no access to the application in Cuba, Maldonado only began using it when he arrived in America.
"Instagram is about vanity; it’s become almost like a jail for this character," he says. Each piece tells its own story. "I like working through different situations. And for that, I enjoy layering."
In addition to showing more than ten of Maldonado's colorful,yet morose canvasses, the exhibit will also screen The Life of Juanita Castro, a rare Andy Warhol film from 1965. The film was inspired by an article that Castro's sister wrote for Life magazine in 1964 titled "My Brother Is a Tyrant and He Must Go." Warhol's avant-garde satire on Latin American politics depicts an imploding family portrait. Waldo Díaz-Balart, whose sister was Fidel Castro's first wife and two of whose nephews have served in Congress, stars in the film.
"Waldo Diaz-Balart was the catalyst to Warhol's project and has handed the torch to El Sexto, symbolically, by welcoming the screening during Danilo's show," says Steven Pollock, director of Market Gallery, which opened this past December during Art Basel.
Ultimately, Maldonado says, he hopes to continue following the things that change, transform, and purify. Though he calls America’s renewed relations with Cuba “absurd, like a person recognizing and validating a thief,” he is certain that change is coming to Cuba.
“People need to know that change comes from us, not from the government.”
El Sexto: "Pork"
7 p.m. to midnight February 25 for opening night, which will feature a live performance by the artist at 8:30 p.m. and special musical guest Porno Para Ricardo, at Market Gallery, 1420 Alton Rd., Miami Beach. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Parking is available in front of the gallery and along Alton Road. Exhibit will be on display through March 19. Gallery hours are noon to midnight daily.
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