Cuban dissident artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara—whose imprisonment by the Cuban government drew international condemnation from human rights groups—is one of six artists to receive the inaugural Prince Claus Impact award. Each recipient will receive €50,000 (roughly the same amount in U.S. dollars).
The biannual award, established in 2021, are presented to artists and cultural leaders “in recognition of both the excellent quality of their work and of their positive contribution to the development of their society,” according to the Prince Claus Dutch fund, an independent organization based in Amsterdam.
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The six recipients were chosen by a jury consisting of the Mexican curator Pablo León de la Barra, the Vietnamese American artist Dinh Q. Lê, the Congolese dancer and choreographer Faustin Linyekula, the Niger architect Mariam Kamara, and the Lebanese curator Maya El Khalil.
The five other recipients of the Prince Claus Impact are Ailton Alves Lacerda Krenak, an Indigenous Brazilian environmentalist and writer; the Senegalese-French film director Alain Gomis; the Moroccan artist Hassan Darsi; the Egyptian architect May al-Ibrashy and the Argentine poet María Medrano.
In a statement, the judges praised Alcántara “for his extremely accessible, honest and non-elitist art practice [and] for his tireless fight for freedom of expression in Cuba and his stance against censorship and political authority.” A spokesperson for the Prince Claus fund told the Art Newspaper that it was “working together with the people around Luis to make sure it is [the award amount] safeguarded until he will be released.”
Otero Alcántara, one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2021 and advocate for artistic freedom in Cuba, was sentenced to five years in prison in June by a Havana. Fellow activist Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo, the author of the protest anthem “Patria Y Vida,” which won the Latin Grammy Award for song of the year in 2021, was sentenced to nine years alongside Otero Alcántara.
According to the Human Rights Watch, the artists were arraigned on a range of charges including public disorder, contempt, and, in Otero Alcántara’s case, “insulting national symbols,” due to his use of the Cuban flag in the performance piece Drapeau, in which he wore or carried the flag uninterrupted for a month.
Otero Alcántara is a cofounder of the San Isidro movement, an influential group of artists and activists demonstrating against the Cuban government’s crackdown on freedom of expression. Several of their members were targets by Cuban authorities during the historic antigovernment protests that spread across the island in 2021.
Otero Alcántara was detained on July 11, 2021, on his way to a protest in Havana, and was held for more than a year in a maximum-security prison without trial, despite a Cuban law that requires a trial within six months of an arrest. Friends of the artist have shared concerns for his deteriorating health and safety in prison. About after his arrest, he was listed as a “prisoner of consciousness” by Amnesty International.
“The judges have chosen artists and cultural practitioners whose work is of exemplary quality while at the same time addressing issues that have contemporary relevance and urgency,” the fund said in a statement.