Guerrero painted the collection of 15 watercolors last year — the 15th year of the Five’s incarceration. Together they depict in vivid colors, and with creativity and humor, their first 17 months in jail at the Miami Federal Detention Center, the first six of which were spent in solitary confinement. What comes through is not only the routine prison practices designed to demoralize and break workers behind bars, but the fighting spirit and social solidarity that marked the Five’s conduct under these conditions.
The exhibit will be on display in a traveled hallway on the Spelman campus through April 6.
“I wanted to generate interest in this case at Spelman and eventually in the city of Atlanta,” said Spelman English professor Alma Jean Billingslea, who welcomed everyone to the opening reception and was part of the effort to bring the exhibit to the college. Exhibit sponsors included the English, World Languages and Literature, and History departments; Facilities Management and Services; and the Honors Program.
A timeline of events related to the government frame-up along with photos and information on each of the Five was on display with the paintings.
Next to a photo and biography of Gerardo Hernández is his tribute to Nelson Mandela following Mandela’s death last year and part of a 1991 speech Mandela gave in Havana recognizing the decisive role that Cuba’s 1975-91 internationalist combat mission in Angola played in the final defeat of apartheid.
Also displayed is a description by Fernando González of his experience in Angola and part of an interview with René González about his arrest and time in prison. Hernández, Fernando González and René González were among some 425,000 Cubans who volunteered to take part in the Angola mission.
Together with Labañino’s photo was a message he sent to family and supporters of Troy Davis Sept. 23, 2011, two days after Davis was executed by the state of Georgia. For decades protests in Georgia and across the country demanded the release of Davis — an African-American who was framed for the 1989 killing of a policeman in Savannah — and used this fight to campaign against the death penalty.
“Learning about the Cuban Five, you also learn about others in the U.S. prison system and the conditions they face, about the use of solitary confinement, also used against immigrants who are detained for just crossing the border without proper documentation,” said Bernardo Gómez, a founder of the Atlanta Network on Cuba. Gómez encouraged people to support the Pastors for Peace Friendshipment to Cuba, which will stop in Atlanta the first week in July.
“The Five are being punished because they were defending the sovereignty of Cuba, which has been under attack since the 1959 Revolution,” said Rachele Fruit of the Socialist Workers Party. “The fight to free them is part of the fight of the working class in the U.S. and around the world. When we fight for their release, we are fighting for ourselves.” She encouraged participants to help build the “5 Days for the Cuban 5” in Washington, D.C., June 4-11.
Reactions to paintings“The watercolors are very stirring,” said Casey Jones, 21, a junior at nearby Morehouse College. “In one of the captions, Antonio Guerrero says, ‘You don’t control the light.’ That short statement says a lot about the conditions in prison, about something as basic as being able to sleep and having your sleep constantly disrupted.” Jones said he plans to help spread the word about the fight to free Hernández, Guerrero and Labañino, the three of the Cuban Five still in prison.
“I was moved by the resilient spirit that is evident in these paintings,” said filmmaker Gayla Jamison. “It’s an example of the resiliency of the Cuban people and their creativity.”
“As a music major, I was very interested to see how art could be used to build a movement, to get people to look at an issue,” remarked 20-year-old Spelman student Janae Bryant. “I was amazed at how Antonio Guerrero did that with his paintings.”
Several professors said they would like to integrate the paintings with their courses. Many stayed around for light refreshments, Cuban music and informal discussion about other possible venues for the exhibit in Atlanta.
Participants bought seven copies of I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived; four of Voices From Prison: The Cuban Five; and one each of The Cuban Five: Who They Are, Why They Were Framed, Why They Should Be Free; United States vs. the Cuban Five: A Judicial Cover-Up; and Hoping in Solitude. One Militant subscription was also sold.
“This exhibit is a powerful reminder that even under the toughest adversity, no one can take away your joy,” commented Bilal Asim, a young worker who came with his wife and infant child at the end of the evening.
Susan LaMont contributed to this article.
Who are the Cuban Five?
Showings of paintings by Antonio Guerrero
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