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

Graffiti: El Sexto / Cuban Blogger Magazine

Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 10.47.24 PMThe development of graffiti as rebellious art expression in Cuba has been rough and rather late when compared with the rest of the world. However, in the last two years has seen an explosion of popularity thanks to the work of El Sexto — the Sixth — the pen name of the Danilo Maldonado Machado, a unique Cuban graffiti artist who has taken on, as is known, his art as a form of dissident expression.

El Sexto paints his graffiti on the streets of Havana, on walls, ruins, buses, traffic signs, etc., demanding freedom and recently remembering Laura Pollan, the late leader of the Ladies in White.

His public art is often diluted by the authorities, usually with pink paint. In one of his images El Sexto says that art is more powerful than the weapons of his oppressors. In December 2011, after his arrest, the political police tried to discredit him by saying that in reality he wasn’t a counterrevolutionary, nor an artist — he was nothing, just a simple drug addict.

El Sexto is a kind of Robin Hood, an anonymous face in Cuba that survives assuming a social commitment and, therefore, El Sexto is everywhere coming from everywhere, responding to the alienating media campaign which for over a decade has produce slogans for the release of five spies convicted in the United States.

Maldonado defines himself through an interview granted to on-line page, The Stark Life. Although the Cuban Internet is Paleolithic, the world follow us and we follow the world, he concludes.

The Editorial Board, Cuban Blogger Magazine

El Sexto / Reinaldo Escobar

Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 10.03.01 PM

On the billboard: “Free our [Five] Heroes. Speech: “The citizen who calls himself ‘The Sixth’ has been detained for mistreating the public art. And now.” Artist: Garrincha

New graffiti is present on Havana’s walls. In large cursive letters thier author writes the word “Sexto” — Sixth — at times finishing off the the writing with a star, other times adding to the text the image of a face. It reminds me of the pioneer of Cuban graffiti, Chori, who left barely a wall in Havana without his signature made with white chalk back in the ‘60s, and, they tell me, from before that.

Is it a proper name, or perhaps the name of a hip hop group that in my profound musical ignorance I can’t call to mind? A retiree whom I greet now and then in the line for newspapers, asked me if this poster could be some kind of advertising for the Sixth Communist Party Congress, in the style of a campaign invented by Robertico Robaina in the years when he was first secretary of the Young Communist Union (UJC). Do you remember? 31 and Ever Onward and that Ever whatever, commander, ever whatever. But it doesn’t seem that Julio Martinez, the most insipid youth leader in the history of Cuba, is the one that has had the initiative.

Who knows? Maybe it is the sixth child of a marriage, or someone demobilized from military service who celebrates his release remembering the number he had in his unit or a sex maniac with poor spelling, and I can’t even rule out the hypothesis of my retired friend that it is a militant communist who, in this way, is reminding his party leaders that they have already celebrated the end of the congress.

Part of the Dossier of El Sexto, which will appear here piece by piece.

Graffiti and Scathing Flyers / Eugenio Leal

El Sexto Awakes

El Sexto Awakes

Graffiti, a term that comes from the Italian “graffio” meaning “scratch,” has existed since the dawn of humanity. We see it in the cave paintings of Lascaux, in France. Our ancestors marked the walls with bones and stones and left us their testimony. Also, in ancient Greece and the ruins of Pompey texts have appeared that revealed election slogans, drawings and the various obscenities of their inhabitants.

In Havana, in the early nineties, with the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the economic crisis that the government called “the Special Period,” we found at various points in the city a symbol of the Abakuá fraternity. It consisted of a circle within which are two rods superimposed on a cross with arrows at both ends, which means “the roads are closed.”

At different times, other symbols and texts have gained ground in the urban environment and, systematically, government agencies have been alerted to erase, detect, apprehend, prosecute and imprison the graffiti artists. But as the system’s structural crisis became endemic, we became used to — both the repressors and repressed — the appearance, more or less ephemeral, of suggestive messages encoded in different parts of the city.

A few years ago, in Plaza along 23rd Street, an enigmatic text appeared. It was red, consisting of a vertical line with an arrow at the upper end that made an inverted letter V, and another, normal, much smaller, on the lower end. To emphasize, the reverse S was upside down. Virtually overnight the graffiti appeared on facades, walls, traffic signals, park benches, and whatever flat surface was available.

There was no need to be an expert in esotericism, the sign told us we had the change the situation of our society. Not only by the reverses word. The weight of the large V on the little one, on the lower part, indicated the instability of the system.

Recently, I met a young active graffiti artist who signs his work with “El Sexto” — the Sixth — and is designated National Graffiti Artist Vanguard. From a long time back I have seen his mark all over the city, that authenticates his self-identification. Now, in the most unexpected places, his texts and the characteristic signature line appear.

Distinguishing himself from others, who have also dabbled in the art of graffiti, he also prints flyers. And so he shatters the ancient iconography of the system of government. Among them are: “Give Back My 5 Euros,” which satirizes the alienating campaign for the 5 spies of the Wasp Network imprisoned in the United States; “With Reason Held High” in opposition to the slogan of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs); and “The Sixth Truth” where his image and the word Truth appear which discredits and shows the phobia occasioned by the truth. In his way, The Sixth transmits an important message: We are beginning to exercise our rights.

Please! Keep El Sexto in your sight. We will not allow the totalitarian regime to devour this young man, as they did to others when there were no modern information and communication technologies.

Part of the Dossier of El Sexto, which will appear here piece by piece.

October 2011

“Catch and Release”: El Sexto (Danilo Maldonado) Arrested on Saturday, Released on Sunday, His Work Confiscated / Lia Villares, Danilo Maldonado

Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 1.52.26 PMSaturday [18 May 2013]

El Sexto is raided at his home this afternoon at 1:15 pm, according to Alexandra his wife and owner of the apartment, who learned of it through an email from her dad who lives downstairs and saw men and women in uniform and in plainclothes, accompanied by 2 neighbors from the CDR [Committee for the Defense of the Revolution], and a major from MININT [Ministry of the Interior], in all about 5 people, they showed him a search warrent and confiscated his laptop, spray paints and all the works they found and took him away in a patrol car. As of now with destination unknown.

Translator’s note: This post and the following ones (now with earlier time stamps) together form a report on El Sexto’s (“the Sixth” — Danilo Maldonado) arrest, the search of his home and the confiscation of his belongings.

18 May 2013

My Confiscated Works and the Scene of the Crime (Part 1) / El Sexto – Danilo Maldonado

El Sexto – Danilo Maldonado

– 8 mini cards in the name of Danilo Maldonado – 1 Canon camera – 1 Thinkpad laptop – 15 virgin discs – 76 yellow cards with the writing “I determine” 4 signed by El Sexto – 4 recorded discs – 2 recorded discs with photos and video. [Identifies Danilo as "unemployed"]

37 spray paints, multiple colors and brands – 4 templates to paint – A dossier of the Salbutomal (asthma medicine) project – 1 book of curriculum vitae – 3 DVDs – 3 canvases (of paintings)

1 Samsung cellphone – 14 cards with paintings and sketches – 15 canvases with paintings, 2 Voices Magazines, 4 photos with counterrevolutionary elements

[same as above]

20 May 2013