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

Post Arrest 3 / El Sexto – Danilo Maldonado Machado


Fear is a role. You play it how you want. [After el Sexto’s t-shirt with Laura Pollan was ripped off him by State Security, he had her face tattooed on his skin, followed by those of other recently deceased heroes of the freedom and democracy movement.]

Faces of the new Cuba. Benedict XVI was in Cuba this week. There, where change is beaten among the Castro reforms and the demands of the famous dissidents, there are also more anonymous people who from their commercial undertakings, their rap music, or their graffiti, modify the face of the island. This is a tour of this new Havana labyrinth.

20 May 2013