“I Live Happy Because I Live Without Fear” / 14ymedio, El Sexto

Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’

Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’

  • El Sexto tells of his incarceration in the Valle Grande prison

14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 January 2015 — Danilo Maldonado, the graffiti artist known as El Sexto, finished a month in prison this January 25. He was arrested while riding in a taxi whose trunk was carrying two live pigs. The animals were painted green and each bore a name written on his side. On one could be read Fidel and on the other, Raul.

The artist’s intention was to release them in Central Park in order to recreate a rural tradition in which one tries to catch pigs with the added difficulty that their bodies are smeared with grease. His frustrated performance art was entitled Animal Farm, in Memoriam.

The light blue Lada that was transporting him was intercepted by three Revolutionary National Police patrol cars. The agents took away the identity cards of Danilo and the vehicle’s driver and took them to the Infanta and Manglar Station. Two days later, they transferred the artist to the Zapata and C unit where a prosecutor told him that he would be taken to trial. He stayed in those dungeons seven days until he was transferred to the central police station of Vivac de Calabazar, where he spent another seven days.

It happened that Vivac was the destination for dozens of arrestees accused of trying to participate in the performance announced by performance artist Tania Bruguera in the Plaza of the Revolution last December 30, which was interpreted by authorities as a counter-revolutionary provocation. Some of those arrested, who learned of his presence at the place, shouted, among other slogans, “Freedom for El Sexto.”

From the Valle Grande prison, where he is now, Danilo has sent us some jail anecdotes and a couple of drawings.

The Tank

When I arrived at Valle Grande they took blood samples for the lab, shaved my head and beard. They also photographed me. During my stay in Vivac, they had diagnosed me with pneumonia, for which reason I was carrying antibiotics with me, but they took them from me and have not seen fit to return them to me so far, nor has a doctor listened to my chest to find out if I am the same, better or worse than when I arrived here. To make matters worse, I am surrounded by smokers who do not care at all that I am sick and asthmatic. Continue reading

Free El Sexto / Lia Villares

To beat me you need weapons, police prisons. For me to beat you I only need spray paint and this  little piece of paper.

Left side: El Sexto, disappeared. Right side: For you to beat me you need weapons, you need police, you need prisons. For me to beat you I only need spray paint and this little piece of paper.

Lia Villares’ tweet: #IAlsoDemand #FreeElSextoNow 1 artist deserves the attention of the free generations of the future free.


Appeal against the arrest of graffiti artist El Sexto rejected; prisoner transferred to Valle Grande / Diario de Cuba

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Havana, 7 January 2015 — The graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, remains imprisoned in Valle Grande prison after authorities rejected the habeas corpus appeal presented by the Cubalex organization, led by independent counsel Laritza Diversent.

The appeal denounced the “arbitrary detention” of El Sexto which took place when he led two pigs, named Fidel and Raul, to stage a performance in Havana’s Central Park on 26 December. The graffiti artist is accused of “insult.”

Diversent explained to Diario de Cuba this Wednesday that the authorities rejected the appeal “with very subtle arguments” and hid behind an assertion that there was “no legal basis” to consider the arrest as “illegal.”

The independent counsel recalled that her appeal did not cite the detention as illegal but “arbitrary.” Likewise, in her demand she specified that the names of pigs, Fidel and Raul, were “common” and that authorities had to “accept criticism.”

For now, according to independent counsel, there is still no trial date and she hopes that there will be a change of custody, because the events in which El Sexto is involved are a “misdemeanor.”

Also, Diversent said that she had sent information to international bodies so that they will speak out on the situation of graffiti artist.

Political repression increases in Cuba during the month of December, according to CCHRNC / 14ymedio

People gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day in December. (14ymedio)

People gathering in Havana on Human Rights Day in December. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 5 January 2015 — According to its monthly report, during the month of December the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and reconciliation (CCDHRN) registered at least 489 arbitrary arrests for political reasons, closing out 2014 with at least 8,899 arrests for the year. Continue reading

An Independent Legal Group Files a Habeas Corpus Petition on behalf of El Sexto / 14ymedio

The artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto (Luz Escobar)

The artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto (Luz Escobar)

14YMEDIO, Havana, 29 December 2014 — On Monday, the independent group CubaLex filed a petition for habeas corpus in the case of artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto. In a document addressed to the Provincial Tribunal of Hanvana, the lawyers urge that the arrestee’s rights be respected and also that he be permitted a proper defense. Police have informed the relatives of the prisoner that all trials scheduled for the upcoming days, including that of the artist initially scheduled for next Wednesday, the last day of 2014, are delayed until the new year.

El Sexto was arrested December 25 shortly before carrying out a performance which consisted of releasing two pigs with the names of “Fidel and Raul” in a public square. He is charged with contempt. Continue reading

El Sexto Again in Danger, December 2014 / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Friends of the world, I just talked with the graffiti artist El Sexto — Danilo Maldonado Machado — from Havana, Cuba.

State Security agents are like bloodhounds after him, all over the city, on motorbikes and in cars.

They are intimidating him, but in the end his arrest by the police appears imminent.

The Ladies in White Association is going to organize a huge, peaceful, pro-human rights march in El Vedado on 10 December. And the repressors are doing what they did during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in March of 2012: “preventative” mass arrests for more than a week, without legal charges nor any right to make a phone call: Pure State kidnappings.

El Sexto’s art has no place in the Castroism that castrates our free Cuban hearts.

The agents are pressuring him to go into exile. I also told him to consider it, because between the Cubanamericantotalitarian Tycoons and the European Business Left, the play is already set to impose on us another half century of Castroism without Castro.

El Sexto just said to me, “Thank you for your friendly advice, Landy, but for me… they are going to have to kill me in this country.”

And El Sexto knows very well of what he speaks, because he wears on his skin the assassinated bodies of Laura Pollán y Oswaldo Payá.

1 December 2014

Artist El Sexto Will Face Trial in a Few Hours / 14ymedio

Daniel Maldonado, "El Sexto"

Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto”

The trail of the independent artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto – “The Sixth” – has been set for tomorrow at 8:30 AM in the Plaza of the Revolution municipal court.

The cartoonist and creator of numerous graffiti is accused of the alleged crime of threatening his wife, which could mask political retaliation. The complaint was made by Danilo’s wife’s father, who was also present as the main prosecution witness.

Friends and colleagues fear that the court hearing is a way of settling accounts with this uncomfortable “king of the spray can.” In statements to 14ymedio, El Sexto has demonstration his dissatisfaction with the legal process and has confirmed that his wife was present during the session to “state what occurred.” Right now the couple is living under the same roof together with their small daughter and hope that “the charges won’t go forward.”

With regards to tomorrow’s trial, Maldonaldo believes, “There won’t be any problems, although there is always the pressure. Just for the simple fact of thinking differently, I feel exposed in front of them.”

In recent decades it has become a frequent practice to bring common crime charges against activists and artists who undertake work critical of the government. In a similar situation right now is the writer Angel Santiesteban, condemned and sentenced to prison on alleged charges of violation of domicile and injury.

Gorki Aguila, the famous singer and leader of the punk rock band Porno para Ricardo is also on the list of those awaiting trial, accused of alleged “drug abuse.”

As a general rule, people critical of the government are not judged on political reasons but for “common crimes” with the aim of limiting solidarity and international pressure.

Official citation of Danilo Maldonado

Official citation of Danilo Maldonado

El Sexto Facing Trial / 14ymedio

El Sexto at his home in Havana (14ymedio)

El Sexto at his home in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 9 July 2014 – The graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth), has been in custody for five days charged with “violation of domicile and injury” and will be prosecuted, according to several friends and Cuban activists. Interviewed by the newspaper just two weeks ago, the artist is being held incommunicado and will be tried this week, according to reports from his family on Wednesday.

This newspaper was able to contact the photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo who, in speaking of El Sexto, said, “he has no attorney, no money, no one left free in Cuba who is able to help him.” The young man has spent several years in the sights of the Cuban political police for a series of graffiti and expositions where he questions the powers-that-be and gives voice to outlawed civil society. His friends believe this could be a “settling of accounts.”

Several witnesses say that a domestic incident and a complaint from the father of El Sexto’s wife have “served as a reason for the police to charge his and to remove him from the streets where he realizes his art.” There is still no official version of events and the authorities are not providing clear answers to the several phone calls made to investigate the situation of the detainee.

In late 2012, the writer Angel Santiesteban Prats was convicted on similar charges and still remains an inmate of a forced work center on the outskirts of Havana. As a general rule, people critical of the government are not judged on political grounds but rather for “common crimes” with the objective of reducing solidarity and international pressure.

“El Sexto” or the King of Spray / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

El Sexto at his home in Havana (14ymedio)

El Sexto at his home in Havana (14ymedio)

We spoke with El Sexto, the young man who has made graffiti one more method of denunciation.

Yoani Sánchez, Havana | June 26, 2014 – Winking at art, a non-authorized decoration on the walls, graffiti maintains its irreverent and clandestine air that distances itself from galleries and approaches our eyes.

If one day there is a tour of Cuban graffiti, it will have to include this gangly young man called El Sexto*. A character of the night, of agile fingers, he has marked facades, bridges and traffic signs all over Havana with his art.

Many consider him an artist, others accuse him of vandalizing the city and marking landmark places, but, how does El Sexto see and construe himself?

Question: Graffiti, performances, paintings, charcoal draawings… you work in many techniques.

Answer: I have tried to insert new technologies in my work as well. For example, I developed a line of placing QR codes (quick response code) messages about Cuban society and politics. After leaving them stuck to walls, on products in the market, on the wall of a cell in the police station… People were very curious tio know what the little quadrangle filled with pixels was saying, so they would look for someone with a smart phone with the QR reader application to understand them.

Then they would read the message: “El Sexto,” “Down with the Castros!” or the dissemination of some event on the alternative scene. It was a form of mocking censorship through new technologies.

Question: Many Cuban artists opt for the metaphor, perhaps to stay out of trouble and to not be censored. You go for an ever more direct language. Has no institution approached you to organize an exposition?

Answer: So far no one has approached me to present my work in any institutional gallery. I am an artist outside the permitted limits. Although the official world doesn’t accept me, other Cuban artists have offered me solidarity and encouragement. At first I thought that the art scene wasn’t looking at me, didn’t know my work. However, I’ve been in contact with some major figures such as Ezequiel Suárez, Garaicoa, Los Carpinteros, and to my surprise they value my art and are up to speed on what I’m doing. This has given me greater commitment to my work and makes me improve every project I undertake.

“I had to look out for the guards at the Museum of the Revolution in order to paint on the façade of the Museum of Fine Arts.”

Question: Can you talk about the graffiti movement in Cuba?

Answer: Yes, there are young people who are joining this phenomenon. Right now, I am working with a group that sees in the idea of painting walls as also being a way of promoting social phenomena. Helping to give a face and form to figures of the alternative scene and also artistic, technological and even journalistic projects. We create graffiti, flyers, umbrellas, shirts… with the symbols that distinguish these projects and to go to public places where people ask, “And this, what’s this?” A way of arousing curiosity and disseminating these phenomena.

Question: In the last year you left the country for the first time and you were in Miami. How did that first trip abroad go?

Answer: It’s been very important in my life. Especially the stay in Miami where I could meet so many Cubans and see what they’ve managed to achieve. That gave me a lot of happiness but it also made me very sad to think of all the lives that have been shattered on this side because they don’t have freedom to fulfill themselves. I learned a lot about publicity; it nurtured me, the ways in which people want to spread an idea among as many people as possible. But I also understood on those trips that I am here, in the street, I need the Cuban streets to realize my art and to inspire me. So I returned home.

El Sexto’s signature on a traffic sign  (14ymedio)

El Sexto’s signature on a traffic sign (14ymedio)

Question: You were also in The Hague, Netherlands, what did you do there?

Answer: My art tries to call attention to what is happening here. So in The Hague I gave a public performance – which coincided with the so-called Night of the Museums in that city – where I used a 24-yard chain to convey the sensation of confinement and lack of freedom that we experience in Cuba. It was very cold and my body was totally shaking in the street, while people waited in long lines to enter the museum halls, also joining the piece and creating a great impact on those who were watching.

“In The Hague I performed with a 24-yard chain to convey the feeling of confinement we experience in Cuba.”

Question: You’re always living with one foot in the street and the other in jail. Are you afraid?

Answer: I’ve been given many fines for painting facades, fines I will never pay, because it’s my art. This has been a path to my individual freedom, I’m going to build myself toward greater sincerity. Even if I’m taken prisoner tomorrow, I will continue doing it.

Question: Of all your graffiti, which do you like best?

Answer: The one that has come farthest with me is my signature, El Sexto, and although I like them all, that one in particular took me a lot of work because of the place where I did it. I had to look out for the guards at the Museum of the Revolution in order to paint on the façade of the Museum of Fine Arts, so there I am, in that place, despite censorship.

Question: Future projects?

Answer: I’m going to do a performance that has a lot to do with the direction of my career. I still don’t have a date but I’m working on it. It will be a piece in which I will refine with my art and my own body the wall where I will paint it.

Translator’s note: Follow the link for an explanation of the nom-de-plume “El Sexto,” whose given name is Danilo Maldonado Machado.

26 June 2014

El Sexto, Artist Non Grata / Maria Matienzo Puerto, Danilo Maldonado

The sixth WHAT? People wondered when his graffiti started appearing around the city. And then it was more than a signature. But the irreverence is unforgiven. State Security is not about to understand this punk aesthetic, much less the art of graffiti. The forces of order are too serious.

For them, Danilo Maldonado, alias “El Sexto” (the Sixth), is a criminal who dirties (even more) the city, A coarse guy who makes everything into a joke and has no fear. So of course, there must be war. He can’t spray graffiti, much less exhibit in a gallery. This would be to accept him as an artist. And he isn’t one. He is a citizen non grata who although abroad, continues to suffer some consequences.

In this interview he talks about the most recent censorship of his work and announces his return to the Island after completing his Shelter City: the Hague fellowship, awarded by Justitia et Pax.

For El Sexto, what are the boundaries between art and social and political activism?

For me the boundaries between art and social and political activism sound like restrictions, and restrictions, to me, sound like a lack of freedom to create, and what’s more, they sound like communism.

I like the idea of breaking boundaries: and this fits with my beliefs, with what seems solid to me. I’m constantly at war with myself trying to better myself. I tell myself I have gotten this far, why not go further. If I do graffiti at night, why not do it in the day. If this is who I am, why hide. So I want to defend those who share my art, no matter what, why not do it.

I don’t understand why people put themselves in cages. For me, art is in everything. A can do a lot, even cross the lines of politics which I also believe in an art although it is practiced with lack of sincerity in my country.

People love to set boundaries, but art and politics are a game in which we ourselves impose the boundaries, not those who would limit us. So breaking them is good, because it’s the first step to finding the interior freedom that we’re lacking.

I hear you’ve set aside graffiti and started to conceive of your work in galleries. When will we see your exhibition at the Christ the Savior Gallery?

Yes, I’ve set it aside because I work all the time, so I get to experiment with canvas, cardboard. Recently I had the chance to put together at least sixteen canvases of 6 feel by eight feet, several cardboards, photographs and sculptures, for an exposition in Christ the Savior Gallery.

But as you know, my work makes the galleries panic, even the independent ones, so I’ve only exhibited at La Paja Records, and at Estado de SATS; later in the Christ the Savior Gallery, in a Graffiti Festival where I will have the chance to do a two-person exhibit with the graffiti artist and fine artist José Ernesto Rodríguez,
son of Silvio Rodriguez.

At that time, like always, it was under pressure. And they lost–only–the photos of my pieces take by the photographer Marcel.

However, when I’d put together this much work, Otari Oliva was very excited to see that finally it was possible for me to have a personal exhibition. And excited because Christ the Savior Gallery would be the first independent gallery — not associated with “activists” or “politics” — according to him — to show my work. So I left them in his house with everything arranged for September.

During that time, Otari sent me emails asking to postpone the expo until October because he was still arranging travel and such… but the same month, on 21 September, there was an exhibition held in Christ the Savior, of Ernesto Oroza.

Needless to say that made me sad. I did not understand why, if this date was planned for my first exhibition, someone would have a show before me. But fine, we went back to setting a date for October, in the first five days.

And again, emails from Otari saying that he was getting too much pressure, and that State Security wanted to see my works. What he told me was that he refused and preferred to remain silence and not to talk to the media because he’s afraid that what happened to Estado de SATS would happen to the gallery. And he also said that Chris the Savior was cultural, not political. But above all, that I should wait for everything to calm down without saying a word about my situation.

That reminded me of the attitude taken every day by the Cuban government and its repressive philosophy, “the place and time.” So I was left frustrated that couldn’t see my work and deserved an explanation. Once again, I’ve been censored by State Security and the fear some people have of keeping their word and not fighting tooth and nail for what is worthy and what they love, art.

Does that mean censorship in Cuba gains space, because who can confront them, make them give up? Do you think art and independent spaces could make a difference?

Of course. Those who have managed to snatch a scrap of earth for freedom are the independent spaces and if they give in… They [State Security] already have the formula: “I scare you a little and you give in and now everything’s fine.” But I think if someone has managed to create an independent space and proclaim it as such, then they acquire certain responsibilities, and one of them is not to be an extension of State censorship.

To what extent can you limit this negative? Have you thought about changing strategy? This could be a good turning point for how visual arts are perceived on the island, but that, I think, must be done from within.

Sometimes I feel pessimistic, especially when I see how some people behave. People do not understand that the struggle has to be waged from within Cuba. I do my work without forgetting my family. My language and my reality are there.

Then on your return how do you see Danilo as an artist? Do you go back to the streets, or maintain this change of perspectives?

The streets would love to see the last of me, but that’s beyond me, it’s my therapy. From the first graffiti I couldn’t turn away from the street. Here in the Netherlands I’ve also gotten in trouble, don’t think it’s just in Cuba.

However, sometimes I take a rest or change tools. I play with video, performance, painting, photography… I love being tested with other materials, it’s also another space outside the official, it’s simply to grow as an artist, as a human, to find other languages to express an idea. I’m just telling you there will be surprises, for the Cuban streets and for the galleries as well, why not?

More photos are here.

María Matienzo Puerto | Havana

From DiariodeCuba.com | 9 Nov 2013

The “Secret Process” Against Graffiti Artist El Sexto / El Sexto – Danilo Maldonado Machado

Danilo Maldonado -- El Sexto

Danilo Maldonado — El Sexto

By Ernesto Santana

In his five years as a graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto (The Sixth), has gone through violent and arbitrary arrests, the seizure of his personal property, threats and other abuses, but has continued to stamp his works throughout Havana.

State Security has kidnapped him and even taken him to visit Alexis Leyva, Kcho, an “example of artist” according to them. In vain, El Sexto, is backsliding and the direct and confrontational tone of his art grows ever stronger. If at one time he used great ironies such as “Return my five euros,” he now puts “Down With Castro” on a bloody background or paints a swastika over the face of Fidel Castro.

“I’m like a dog with a bone,” says Danilo in conversation with this reporter, “even though every time they erase my graffiti faster.” When they increased the pressure on him, he decided to combine the marginal arts of tattoo and graffiti and began to draw on his own skin what he wanted to denounce; and in addition, as an example of his persistence, he wrote his signature over the police pink paint-outs over his previous graffiti.

abajo-castro,,-741206A Spray Can as a Weapon

But they have to catch him in the act to stop him. Simply carrying a spray can in his pocket, as happened on Friday May 17, when he went with some friends to buy some beer at the corner of Twenty and G about nine in the evening. A policeman asked for documentation and took him to the station at Zapata and C, where he had to wait until the next day to meet with the chief of the station.

“When I finally talked to him,” Danilo said, “he asked me, ‘So you’re the one who does all that out there?’ I gave him a disc with my work, so he would know what I was doing. ” The reaction was take odor samples (they tried to get him to give them urine samples, but he declined, although they disrespected him with extreme rudeness) and they took him in two patrol cars to make a search of his home.

“They started to take canvases, sprays, a laptop, a camera, memory cards, discs and unused canvases, and put everything in nylon bags that said ‘Forensics’,” El Sexto said. Then they took him back to the police station and at midnight that same Saturday, the 18th, they returned to take him to the office of the chief, now absent. “There was a woman who behaved with very little respect. All my belongings were on a table, any old way, all mixed up,” says Danilo.

SP_A1069-779127The officer informed him that three of his paintings would be confiscated, as well as templates for stencils, his artistic projects, thirty-seven enamel spray cans and even four cans of oil paint and even his resume, arguing that they were objects related to “a crime under investigation.” Then they handed him a record of what had been seized and released him.

Not Unemployed: Artist

Two days later, El Sexto started a legal process with an attorney to get them to return what they had seized him, because when they searched his home and confiscated objects, he was not given a copy of what confiscated, as dictated by the procedures. “Why did they return some works and not others?” the graffiti artist asked. “Why did they keep the spray paint that I bought at State stores? They did what they felt like, violating many things,” he said.

He had been branded unemployed and he had replied: “I am an artist, although I am not your artist. I’m not here to worship any god. I have the right to criticize and say what I want.” And it was more clear when he told the police: “You’re not talking about some revolution, but a phalanx who loves the F of Fidel. It is illegal for me to paint the walls, but not to write “Long live Fidel” or “In line with Fidel” without asking anyone. Why do I have to check with you to say something?”

fidel-fasisssta-729672The Secret Process

Determined not to be passed over, he will continue to demand the return of his works. “I did not kill anyone, I am an honest person, I live in my work and my wife is pregnant,” he pointed out to the officer. “In fact, my greatest endorsement is what you do, punishing me, which confirms that I’m doing my job. How ironic.”

When the informed his attorney that a file had been opened on his client, the counsel asked what he was accused of, and the only response, according to what Danilo said, “they told him they couldn’t tell him, because it was a secret process. I insisted, but the only thing they told me was “soon” they would tell me what I was accused of. They alleged that it was a falsehood that they’d made an accusation and that I had refused to sign it. But we wrote letters of complaint and delivered them to the appropriate places,” Danilo Maldonado concluded.

escupeloThe Criminal Value of the Artwork

From these events, Otari Oliva, one of the project coordinators of Christ the Saviour Gallery (which did a great series of exhibitions of Cuban graffiti between September and November), wrote a text setting out his concerns as an artist: “The situation of El Sexto makes me reflect: a work of art can possess criminal value and this is referred to in the criminal code of my country. Starting today I would like to be able to determine, as I can determine the criminal value of certain acts, the criminal value which may lie in a work of art.” And then he made his position clear: “Either the criminal code will be adequate and judgment will be pronounced from an exercise in transparency, clarifying for Danilo and everyone the reasoning of the authorities, or we are dangerously close to a burning pyre of books, in addition to the hands of our artists trembling perhaps a little more from now on.”

Either way, El Sexto does not have among his plans, backing down. In the coarse search they did of his home, the experts like a bag with the word “Forensics” printed on it, which he now thinks of using to create a work. A gift that they gave him to continue honing his art.

Photos courtesy of Ernesto Santana. Originally published on Cubanet.

30 May 2013