Jailed dissident Cuban artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was one of six artists to receive the Prince Claus Impact award in its inaugural year. The €50,000 (~$49,500) biennial award, administered by the Prince Claus Fund, seeks to honor artists and other cultural figures “whose work and positive impact on their societies deserve much wider recognition.”
Other awardees include Ailton Alves Lacerda Krenak, an Indigenous Brazilian writer and activist; Alain Gomis, a French-Senegalese film director; Hassan Darsi, a Moroccan artist whose work explores public space; May al-Ibrashy, an Egyptian architectural engineer whose work focuses on heritage as a keystone of development; and María Medrano, an Argentine writer who has published three books of poetry.
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Alcántara, whom the jury praised for his activism against censorship and authoritarianism, has been behind bars in Havana since July 2021, and was sentenced in June to five years in prison over trumped-up charges of “contempt, defamation, and public disorder.” The five judges said in a joint statement that they selected Alcántara “for his extremely accessible, honest and non-elitist art practice [and] for his tireless fight for freedom of expression in Cuba.” Given Alcántara’s incarceration, the Prince Claus Fund clarified that they would work with those close to him to ensure the disbursement of his award.
In 2018, Alcántara was a founder of the San Isidro Movement (SIM), a group of Cuban writers, academics, and artists formed to protest Cuba’s censorship of ideas in response to Decree 349, a new law at the time that required artists to seek permission before staging any public or private artistic shows. Over the course of his career, he has participated in several performance and social practice pieces as acts of civil disobedience, including instituting a Museum of Dissidence public art project and draping a flag over his body in direct contravention of a law regulating the use of national symbols. He has also regularly undertaken hunger strikes while in prison, leading Amnesty International to call him a “prisoner of conscience” and artists including John Akomfrah, Julie Mehretu, and Carrie Mae Weems to write to the Cuban government petitioning for his release.
In a letter written from prison and published by Hyperallergic in May, Alcantará wrote: “So many people I love now live in exile, without the possibility of returning because a dictatorship prevents them from doing so. The regime has destroyed my artwork and violated my rights and the rights of my friends in so many other ways.”
The award honors the memory of Prince Claus of the Netherlands and awardees are celebrated in a ceremony at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam. The Prince Claus Fund has a stated mission of recognizing artists hailing from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe, with a focus on areas where the freedom of expression is impeded.