USM takes on another politically themed art show

More inmate work
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  January 27, 2011

art_guerrero_PrisonShirt_ma
CHANGING CLOTHES “Un dia mi camis de preso se quedara ahi colgada (One day my prison shirt will remain hanging there),” by Antonio Guerrero.
The muse can arrive anywhere. After the protracted confusion of his arrest and trial, it's no surprise Antonio Guerrero emphasizes clarity in his work. "Let Cuba Live," the modest exhibition of paintings, drawings, and text on the fifth floor of the Glickman Library, offers a glimpse of the powers of creativity amid captivity. Now in his thirteenth year of incarceration (which includes a 17-month pre-trial solitary confinement), Guerrero resides in a medium-security penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, where eight years ago he learned to paint.

The story of how he got there is complex, and deeply mired in the long history of high-stakes political gamesmanship between the US and Cuba. In September 1998, five Cuban intelligence agents were tried and convicted in Miami of espionage and conspiracy to commit murder. Cuba claims the spying was targeting not America but groups of anti-Castro Cuban-American exiles in Florida, though the convictions were based on allegations of spying against the US.

What is less in dispute is the fairness (or lack of it) of the trial. The Cuban Five were tried in Cuban-hostile Miami. Although it was the longest trial in US history, jurors took a remarkably short four days to reach a conclusion. Multiple international appeals to change the venue of the trial from Miami (where zero of the 160 members of the jury pool were Cuban-American) to a more neutral location were denied. The case has served as the most prominent example of international diplomatic inconsistency in the US courts, and groups such as the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five have considerable international representation.

"Let Cuba Live" is best appreciated as a comprehensive, contextual exhibition. Guerrero's 30 pieces include paintings of lush, picturesque beach vistas, mountainous Coloradan landscapes (visible from his quarters), and airbrushed images of iconic Che Guevara photographs. Simple graphite portraits of each of the mothers of the Five are included, as are five examples of Guerrero's poetry written early in his sentence, tracing the arc of his creative output from the printed word to the visual arts. A placard of Guerrero's text tells how he engineered his creative environment, pushing against the penitentiary's racial boundaries for a room with a black prisoner who gave drawing lessons.

While not a visionary painter, the studious attention he gives his subjects can occasionally evince an inspiring artistic fortitude. Certainly, this is wall art, but consider the walls. Guerrero's work is the stuff of fantasy; it requires an imagination and discipline no less powerful than those of a surrealist summoning the opulent dream from which he just woke. Intrinsic in the richness of color of these works is a reality no doubt many degrees starker.

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