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Cremata Expresses an Artist’s Bellyful Against Cultural Repression /
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya
Posted on July 15, 2015

“What right does anyone have to rule over everyone’s thoughts?” The
question, deeply subversive towards the Cuban reality, is at the heart
of the open letter that artist Juan Carlos Cremata recently sent to an
unknown Culture officer by the name of Andy Arencibia Concepción after a
commission of the National Council of Theatre Arts (CNAE) suspended the
theatre season which, under Cremata’s direction, was presenting the play
The King is Dying*, the work of Eugene Ionesco, at the Tito Junco
Auditorium of the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center. After only two shows –
Saturday July 4th and Sunday July 5th — the play was abruptly suspended
by art officials.
Cremata’s letter, harsh and unadorned, was sent via e-mail to several
friends and to 14ymedio for wider dissemination, in a gesture that calls
to mind the phenomenon that took place more than eight years ago, termed
“the little war of the e-mails” or “intellectual debate” initiated by a
spontaneous reaction of artists and intellectuals to the introduction on
national television program of the notorious censor-author “Papito”
Serguera’s process of “parametración” that ostracized dozens of artists,
writers and other creators.

On that occasion, the mere presence of that media commissioner set off
alarms in the actors guild, especially in the surviving victims of the
ill-fated Quinquenio Gris [The Five Grey Years], leading to the first
open and uncontrolled intellectual debate, which took place on the
emerging e-mail cyberspace, and came to question the cultural policy of
the Revolution, outlined by Fidel Castro in his menacing and infamous
speech known as Palabras a los Intelectuales [Words to Intellectuals].

Finally, after weeks of e-mails exchanged in ever escalating tones of
criticism, the controversy was sealed in a closed-door meeting held at
the House of the Americas, led by the then minister of culture, Abel
Prieto, and a select group of participants of the peculiar debate. The
protesting voices were silenced with some minor concessions to the
better-known figures, and the frantic exchange of e-mails ended as
suddenly as it had begun.

However, the “little war of e-mails” managed to set one important
precedent, among others, because of two essential factors: it made clear
the fissure of the traditional pact of submissiveness of the
artistic-intellectual sector to the cultural policy of the Government,
and new information technologies and communications were used for the
benefit of free thought for the first time in Cuba, circumventing
government censorship. It is not coincidental that shortly afterwards,
in 2007, an emergence of true freedom of expression took place with the
emergence of the first independent blogs that have caused so many
headaches to the repressors.

Juan Carlos Cremata, the controversial director of film and theater, has
already experienced the pressure of censorship from the commissioners of
official art before, due to his strong preference for uncomfortable
topics of the Cuban reality, and his incisive and direct manner in
addressing them. Since his directorial debut with the film Nada
[Nothing] (1995), where he successfully used comedy as means to deal
with the drama of emigration, the intransigence of a female official,
and the love of a young couple in the midst of the shortages of the
economic crisis of the 90’s, he won the approval of the national public
to such an extent that, since that time, he has carried on with close
ties with film and theatre as well as with the attention of the
ideological inquisitors.

Despite this, Nada won the Premio Coral de Opera Prima at the 23rd
International Festival of New Latin American Cinema in 2001, in addition
to other international awards.

After that, there were other movies, among them, the renown feature film
Viva Cuba, also the recipient of international awards, and several other
short films denoting the caustic and questioning style ascribed to this
filmmaker by the preference of the Cuban public and by the hostility the
censors.

Crematorium 1 at Last… Evil, stands out among these works: a synthetic
portrait of contemporary Cuba through an acid and biting satire of the
rigidity and hypocrisy of the ideological dogmas imposed on society
whose script, from start to finish, explicitly questions the loss of
social values ​​and the spuriousness of the moral foundations of the
system. Crematorium has never aired on TV or been on film circuits
billboards, but it has circulated widely among Cuba’s public through
informal distribution networks, largely thanks to the interest that the
forbidden often arouses.

On the other hand, Cremata’s performance as a theater director has also
had its obstacles. According to his own account, four years ago, in the
same Tito Junco Auditorium, the play La Hijastra [The Stepdaughter], a
work he directed, was interrupted, that season after 14 shows.

There have been allusions to excessive, unnecessary vulgarity on stage.
In fact, Cremata supports the use of “foul language that is, excessive,
irreverent (which is not the same as disrespectful), iconoclastic,
rebellious and sometimes vulgar or profane.”

However, this argument could be put forward as the cause of censorship,
particularly when vulgarity is a credential letter of the system and is
legitimized by cultural officials, as demonstrated abroad in gross acts
of repudiation against the representatives of Cuba’s independent civil
society, orchestrated and directed during the last Summit of the
Americas in Panama by many of those same jealous caretakers of the
“national culture,” including the former minister of culture, Abel
Prieto, the pseudo-intellectual Miguel Barnet (a so-called
“anthropologist”) and the president of the Hermanos Saíz Association,
such a grayish character that I could not even remember his name.

Paradoxically, the current instance of censorship against The King is
Dying merely reinforces the message it is trying to invalidate, by
identifying the play’s main character, King Eggplant the First, with the
Cuban ex-president — they are both decadent, willful, exhausting and
obsolete — even more so when the president of Cuban Theater Arts, Gisela
Gonzalez, described the staging in terms of “treason” or “political
lampoon”.

How could we ignore the many “cultural events” that are based on similar
acts of repudiation against Cuba’s peaceful opposition in which certain
art instructors even enroll primary school children? Can we possibly
imagine greater vulgarity than what is being promoted by the
administrations of our cultural institutions? Is there greater vulgarity
than the censorship itself of freedom of creation and of thought?

The truth is that, when he directed this theatrical season with the
intention of “talking about resistance to change,” Cremata ended up
surpassing the uncomfortable subject category and reaching that of
intolerable creator in the taxonomy of the cultural curator, one that
is, precisely, the entrenched forefront of that resistance.

Cremata states: “I defend, above all, a plurality of readings in what I
pursue or dream about, because, in some way, it encourages and obsesses
me as artist, thinker and human being.” A principle that completely
denies the exclusionary nature of a system that has imposed what the
artist ironically defined as “limited independence”, “ration-book
freedom” and other epithets. But it clearly defines, at the same time,
the fascist nature of the official censorship.

When he warns his (our) censors that these are times when “a pandemic of
freedom is flooding our senses” Cremata states what many of us have been
suspecting all along: a discrete, though growing transition has begun to
take place in the consciousness of our best artists and creative
individuals, and it is a contagious pandemic, especially because it
flows from voices that can exert a greater and deeper influence over
society than any program or opposition march. Thus, the actions of the
repressors become more visible and self-defeating.

Now we’ll just have to wait and see if Cremata’s letter becomes the
trigger for the demands that our best Cuban creative artists have been
making in the last few years, and whether it will unleash another debate
involving these and other rights, or if another deep silence will turn
it in an epilogue of what could have been the beginnings of a new
intellectual polemic.

*Translator’s note: The play has been staged in the United States under
the title “Exit the King”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: Cremata Expresses an Artist’s Bellyful Against Cultural
Repression / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya | Translating Cuba –
http://translatingcuba.com/cremata-expresses-an-artists-bellyful/

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