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¡El Arte no Calla! x Caminero - Episode 1: Intervening through poetry

Episode 1: Intervening through poetry. A conversation with Alessandro Zagato, Hilda Landrove, and Amaury Pacheco

The first episode of a six-part series, resulting from the collaboration between ARC’s ¡El Arte no Calla! and Caminero, is a conversation with Alessandro Zagato, ARC Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean; Hilda Landrove, Cuban researcher, essayist and cultural promoter based in Mexico; and Amaury Pacheco, poet, performer, founder of Omni Zona Franca, and a prominent figure in Cuban alternative and dissenting art.

The discussion showcases art as a potent tool capable of influencing imaginations and transcending specific political contexts, unveiling art as a means to break boundaries and open new avenues for thought and action. Hilda and Amaury reflect on how in Cuba, poetic action can subvert reality from within, creating powerful images that widen the cracks in the walls of oppression, reinvent language, and reveal the invisible. The conversation also explores the transmutation of pain, highlighting the significance of acknowledging our own shadows and ghosts, explaining how time and connections among generations of poets can lead to a renaissance, with new voices emerging in the light of those that preceded them. The following is an excerpt of the episode translated from Spanish.

HILDA LANDROVE: [Now I would like to introduce Amaury Pacheco,] a pleasure to have you on the program. Founder of Omni Zona Franca…a performance, poetry, public intervention group…[that] for many years marked the pulse of the Cuban alternative movement…I always like to say, [there’s this] discontinuity that has always been in Cuban alternative culture because generations leave or enter exile… [But] I think in this case those processes of the 2000s and the more recent processes of the last four or five years are connected through very specific figures who participated in both moments and I think you are definitely one of them.

I’ll conclude by saying that you are now in exile, because of the situation of repression…How [did the] life circumstances in which you grew up somehow shape the conceptions that later allowed you to create Omni Zona Franca and the conceptions that have nourished your work over all these years?

AMAURY PACHECO: …Something significant is that you have thought it, and that is very good, because in the middle of the struggle sometimes you have to think and act at the same time and that is like a handicap at a certain moment when you are in front of a state machinery, that you have to think about everything and act and go buy the same food as the person who represses you. It is complex, and you start to reconnect with the pain of the nation. Juan Carlos Flores, the poet who “inaugurated” our experience, told me, “Amaury, it takes 10 years for you to feel the pain of this generation.…”

[My beginnings have more to do with the] economic crisis, the Special Period, the economy in shambles, all Cubans had to invent, leave the country, create, and there appeared these proposals that for me were important because I look at myself at the same time as an artist, but also as an entrepreneur…One at that time does not realize because you have all the joy of youth, you have all the power in the world, and you are in a way connected that you do not care what [the State] is going to do to you.

HL: The boldness of youth.

AP: Yes. But the special period gap, a euphemism, is the moment, it is the crisis that allows us to say, this is the move. Here, and also, not in a first sense of opposition to the regime, but the gap of creation, of being able to add something to the nation, which was one of the things we had. What can we do? I already had the experience of seeing the rap festivals, which meant a lot to me - it impressed me in the way that I could do it too. I said, damn, I can do it.

But we started based on the community, to solve certain problems of the community, and that led us to introduce poetry in a different way, not only as an aesthetic record or an emotion, but a real and civic practice. Because we, at that moment, and I always speak of us, sometimes I cannot individualize myself from Omni Zona Franca when I speak. And at the same time, we were in a practice, I mean, [a] collective, but at the same time individual, because you are submerged in collectivism in Cuba and from there you have to create your own individuality by making groups.

We started asking ourselves simple things like a child. Look here, what is a counterrevolutionary? Because they are depositions, they are introjected words among us, programmed.…

“That is why poetry always served us, because there had to be a language reform when renaming all Cuban realities or dealing with words that you had to empty of those contents, to fill them with other contents,”

so we established a kind of rhythm in the combat with the regime in which they wanted to position themselves in the spectrum of good and establish that track record of dialogue with us. And that is a great opportunity because it is the dictatorship wanting, demonstrating, saying that it has the capacity to dialogue when it does not.

HL: They are not capable of dialogue. There is no capacity.

AP: When you talk about dialogue, and we had that experience, you cannot talk about dialogue, you cannot talk about unity. These are words that are already closed by the [Cuban] regime. And I said, why are we going to leave those words to the regime? Those words do not belong to the regime, they are Spanish words, universal words.…When the Special Period began, the economic crisis, so too did this great contrivance of the possibility of us because that is where we sprouted, like weeds sprouting in the cracks of the buildings of Old Havana, that is how we sprouted. And it was impossible to remove us because the regime had no strength, the institutions were dismantled, in the spaces of the municipalities they had no activities, and we represented a movement that they thought they could control, in a certain sense. We can control, we can continue to carry this, because normally the regime always tries to, before passing you through the ultimate processes of cancer, COVID, and all that, convince you to join their side, to work for them.

For me, in my understanding, who has been able to play in these waters with a type of tactic supported in poetry and its resources, which is what has been able to leave something planted from a generation…Because the battles with the regime are like giving that grain, or the pots, removing fragments to weaken it deeply…

HL: Yet at a certain point one has to preserve their soul, right? You have to preserve your soul because [the system] drags you into a lot of ugly things. And what seems to me really beautiful… [and] powerful in Omni Zona Franca is how it had the capacity to bring together so many people, is precisely what you mention about poetry as a magical act. The power of a metaphor, because on one hand, you are in a situation that seems completely mundane, living through a thousand hardships, without really having a space to express yourself, constantly subjected to repression, and suddenly you can create something that comes out of that context, but not through a direct confrontation…but through this process that you talk about of emptying one content, putting another content, connecting those things that apparently are paradoxical and give a third view, a third position, a third possibility of existing in the world.. I have always found it fascinating, and I think it opened up some possibilities, for example, like that continuity you mention with San Isidro, which is indeed very notable. When I saw San Isidro, I said, well, Omni's poetry is there, there is a poetic gesture there.

AP: It is not a word that I like much, but I believe it—it was a poetic revenge for our entire generation.. We felt it because we reconnected after that.…I am not someone who’s interested in these “great connections.” The great connections, those who have the high tension cables that run from one place to another, I respect them too. But for me, they are certain little cuts that are placed, endure, and help the destruction…The process of destruction here is of liquidation, but that liquefying is not like Havana that is being destroyed. That liquefying is a higher understanding of us as Cubans. I am very concerned about that, because so far we have fought with the regime, but what has devastated us, what will be even after. So, it concerns me and it occupies me, and in that sense, we have to go reconnecting, restoring the fabric, which is how I see it today. And it is something that is little by little…you have to have patience.

HL: Water wears away the stone.

AP: Water flows and adapts. It moves around things, and filters through the tiniest holes, and that was our strategic and tactical condition. To filter ourselves…the regime has totalized the Cuban imaginary, we have no capacity. They always asked us. Years ago, they asked us, and [what is] the future of Cuba? What do you think of the future of Cuba? It was an already rhetorical question that I did not know how to answer.

“Our generation came up creating temporary spaces of freedom, and introducing metaphors that opened the Cuban's imagination.”

So that they could imagine something else, not just go out, not just endure, not just wait, but imagine.…that crisis of the '90s was a blessing for all of us, with everything it brought, the good, bad, regular, because I could look through a crack, I could see many people coming from other parts of the world, sharing visions.

At that time in Havana, despite everything, there was great creativity and a variety of imagination. We really had a new nation flourishing, with new ideas, that now, with San Isidro, we managed to turn into action, not just staging.

HL: I am going to quote you from a live broadcast you did during the encampment of the San Isidro, you quote Vallejo… In the poem, [they say] “I am going to talk about hope” and throughout the poem Vallejo talks about pain. But a pain that he no longer feels as himself, nor as his nation, nor as his gender, not even as a human being. It is a type of pain that is either very big or simply is so much and is so depersonalized that it opens a space for hope. You read that poem and commented on what was happening in San Isidro and said that what was happening in San Isidro was a great staging, where we are talking about sickness, because through our bodies passes the disease, through our bodies passes the evil of the nation. If one operates from a place of so much pain but at the same time has these tools of metaphor, metonymy, of reconstructing the contents, you have an opportunity to do something with those pains, right?

AP: You talk to me about pain and you brought up Vallejo's poem, and you made me tear up a bit because suddenly, all this time here outside [of Cuba], I have tried to transmute the pain that one brings from there with the pain of exile, which are two encounters. It is a very powerful encounter. And I thought about the element of shame that Cubans have because somehow, in knowing it and others knowing it and others with their techniques, participated in the affairs of the regime. That as if we want to cure ourselves, by calling the other person a snitch, those things we say to each other, that has somehow sown this distrust among Cubans and has become a deep disease because we see the regime within us when we look at the other.

I am a feeler of the nation and I put the stethoscope on the heart of the Cuban, measure its beats, and look for a remedy. That is what interests me because somehow we will continue living. This will pass, right? As a friend of mine said, 200 years and everything will be fixed. It was a strange thing, but it relieved me. He disappeared the problem ahead of me. Because it is our struggle to demonstrate the darkness of the regime. That it does not fall on the method... Basically, I want to tell you to dream and practice the dream.

“Because it is not only to dream, I practice the dream, the dream of freedom, the dream of Cuban prosperity, the dream of reconnecting.”

HL: What is this ability to intervene in the imaginary? Everyone thinks they have everything clear. Then, suddenly someone says, "Well, but what is being counter-revolutionary?" and that completely changes things. I mean, that has the power to produce these images that can be installed and that can occupy those cracks and can do the work of water. I think that somehow we are always dealing with what pain puts in front of us, with what anguish puts in front of us, with those inherited patterns and difficulties of overcoming these dynamics… [but] if there is any possibility of doing that, it’s through generating those images and letting those images do their work, knowing that it is not something we are going to solve from today to tomorrow.

ALESSANDRO ZAGATO: The fact [as well] that a poem or a poet makes another poet at some later point. And then that is super important, right? Because that is not a direct connection in presence, but it is a connection in perspective, it is a possibility, and that is very important. And then I also think that what Amaury commented on about the resonance that these events he is talking about had in other countries, with Cuban people living in other countries, is super important. And I hope that these connections can be generated with people from other countries, not just among Cubans. Think about how this suffering you are talking about, Amaury, can have an effect on other people, on people in other countries, eventually other artists who can also be part of that connection.

AP: A global network must be made of that.... Right now it is very important. Not only because sometimes one is in their countries, but the pain of everyone reaches you….The globe, the earth, feels that your action, when you connect with another within the world tapestry, you feel that connection that we can move our threads. And I think there is that war, which is the visible one, where it is not a cannon shot, but there is the other where we instill humanity, where we instill the strength to go through that.

Sowing seeds in the imaginary, which is also a somewhat introverted act because you have to open the hole and deposit. I mean, it seems like the sky, but you have to open the earth and deposit. And then let those things sprout in their time. It is one that sprouts in its time, in the time that one is not able to predict, but knows that they are set.

Published on July 8, 2024.

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