Pedro Pablo Oliva: The Art of Honesty / Miriam Celaya

Pedro P. Oliva creation. Graphic taken from a virtual gallery

I have read the words of the famous Cuban painter Pedro Pablo Oliva, 2006 National Prize of Plastic Arts, published on his website following his demotion from the post he occupied as a delegate of the Provincial Assembly of Popular Power in Pinar del Río which, once again, demonstrates the perverse nature of the system. Here is a government official — who allegedly represents the people who (also allegedly) elected him to do so, but was deposed by the delegates of the power elite — trapped in the sordid corners of the policies of a country, where, inexplicably, a parliamentarian is not designed, even remotely, to voice political views, much less to voice questions that criticize the national situation.

Because of those ironic life’s coincidences, Oliva has the fruit of the tree of peace as his last name but the system has declared war on him. That is why they have officially labeled him with nicknames such as counterrevolutionary, traitor to the Motherland and annexationist as befitting all those who “have moved onto the dissidence dividing lines”, according to a dictum formulated by the “ethics commission” destined to seal the cease of the functions of this parliamentarian.

About the Pedro Pablo Oliva case there might be much or perhaps nothing to say. The painter himself states that the purge did not take him by surprise, from what may be inferred that he was aware of the price for his audacity. Already various informational agencies and various websites have offered details about the news. There are those who have given their verdict as well, stoning Oliva from the most inflexible positions of the very “dissident gang”: guilty. Though these accusations are exactly the opposite of what the revolutionary diehards accuse him of, duplicating the same disqualification methods. The charges? Having been an official representative of the government, having partaken of the ideas of the revolution, having painted Fidel Castro, having confessed to (through persuasion) “sympathy” for him, and being grateful to that same defunct revolution for having become an artist. This isn’t anything that several of his relentless inquisitors have not done at some point. If there is something plentiful among Cubans it’s the propensity to being district attorneys, judges and executioners of ourselves, forgetting that, if viewed through a calm and rational eye, Oliva not only has the sovereign right to commune with whatever ideas he has chosen –the privilege of many, including his second-hand critics- but, as far as I know, he has lent true cultural services to his community, from his potential, a lot more than what most of the celebrities in this Island are willing to do, or what those censors have ever done.

That is why I have chosen to be on the side of the testimony of the heretic of the day himself in order to conjure the fairest opinions possible, leaving out all the tribunals of the Inquisition. The analysis of Oliva’s critics, stemming from his own words, is the most enlightening. That is, what he writes in a letter that was published in Yoani Sanchez’s blog, in the answers he gave Little Comrade Edmundo García for this show “La Noche se Mueve” – the Miami version of the Round Table, only more colloquial, sweeter, and with a deceptive sensitive touch — as well as in the letter that the painter has just published in his website.

Apart from the likes or dislikes that everyone may feel towards Oliva and from their views or positions (let’s remember that this is really not a politician, but an artist who once thought fit to assume responsibility as a public official in one of the provinces of the Castros’ Cuba), the fact is that everyone has the right to amend his course. Let’s say that the former Delegate to the Provincial Assembly has decided to return to his brushes and resume, full-time, his vocation after being punished for making statements that fall within the broad range of malcontent. That is, in Cuba everything that challenges the official line to any extent qualifies as criticism of a dissident nature. And, up to a point, it is, though, in our view, Pedro Oliva might not be – or he might not have realized it himself — an activist dissident. It is not necessary to always label people or to form the two monolithic sides, so similar to each other: dissidents / not dissidents or revolutionaries/counter-revolutionaries; who may be “good” or “bad”, depending on how they relate to the ideas of the labeler.

As far as I’m concerned, if Oliva — with all his prestige as an artist and as a person — makes public statements that many of us agree with, labeled or not, it’s OK with me. We are not talking about two high nominees like Lage and Pérez Roque, who, after Oliva’s downfall signed respective mea culpa little letters exonerating the regime of all liability and burying themselves in their own crap and the crap of their superiors. Oliva is something completely different, and, so far, has not retracted anything he said, neither what we like nor what we haven’t shared. That is honesty and courage. If, in addition, as is the case, the painter made his remarks while he held an official position, I think that is a testimony to the state of putrefaction of the system. And if it doesn’t stink even worse, it is because the coffin’s hinges have not completely popped. Oliva’s judgments are, therefore, welcome. May he paint much, because his art exalts him and us. I, an acknowledged dissident, dream of a Cuba where no one has to keep silent or hide to state what he is thinking. Not even communists.

At any rate, Pedro Pablo Oliva’s saga once again places on the front burner the subject of the government’s inability – in all its instances — to head a process of change within Cuba. The real loser in this process is the regime. For the rest, if the elected officials themselves cannot state their points of view and are punished for disobeying the norms (“code of ethics” is what they call the mysterious ritual of swearing in that deprives representatives of their right of speech; in theory, of the people’s will) what’s left to mere mortals, without a voice and with a false vote! The proposition to change a system without changing ideas is absolutely impossible, and neither is the intention of a vote to overcome the inertia without breaking, de facto, the rigidity of the Stalinist schemes rooted in the ruling ideology. Wish there were more “Olivas” among the artists, intellectuals, and officials of this Island. In the meantime, we will continue to wait for a statement of the UNEAC or the Ministry of Culture … or at least a small Granma notation informing its people about the “deviations” of this illustrious derailed comrade. To your health, Pedro Pablo Oliva, and may honesty and the muses of your art continue to guard you!

Translated by Norma Whiting

30 May 2011