In a new essay, Yoani Sanchez offers a fitting tribute to Cuban artist and prisoner of conscience Danilo Maldonado, aka El Sexto.
There was no mistaking it. It was the same face that smiles defiantly from some paintings in which it resembles an unrepentant Christ. I had seen the signature of El Sexto at bus stops, followed his ironies on Havana’s walls, and wondered if this young man really existed, putting so many dreams, so many screams into his midnight strokes . But there he was, standing in front of me, in a T-shirt with a spray can.
“You cross out my stuff, I cross out yours,” said some of the artist Danilo Maldonado’s first paintings. It was when the police were using pink paint to hide his graffiti. Walking down Linea Street you could guess that behind those colorful patches in the middle of a wall that had gone decades without maintenance, the irreverent artist had left a drawing.
So when I stumbled upon El Sexto, thin, rebellious, talented, it seemed I had rediscovered a well-known face from my family photos, someone I had shared colorful nocturnal moments with, insolent and clandestine. With time I discovered that I was also facing a man who would not give in to fear and who would use his own body as a canvas for disobedience.
When we were drowning in the Castro regime’s longest campaign, demanding the release of the five Cuban spies in prison in the United States, Maldonado confronted this hemorrhage of slogans and billboards. He declared himself, at his own risk, “El Sexto,” The Sixth of the “heroes” and shamelessly demanded “give me back my five euros,” in a mocking allusion to the official demand for the “five heroes” to be returned to the island.
The nickname stuck, although the former prisoners – sent home from the United States last December – are now fat and bored in their endless national tours and public events. And so the graffiti artist went from being “the sixth hero” to being the only hero of this story. A few days ago Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. This same restless boy who launched flyers all over Havana, inviting people to tear up and destroy their own fears.