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How Havana’s Street Artists Are Adapting to a Rise in Censorship

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One of Yulier P.’s few remaining murals erodes on the waterfront in Havana, Cuba.

Yulier P. is out looking for trash. Over the past three years, his street art has been featured on scores of news sites. He has received an invitation to come to New York to prepare an exhibition, and the latest Transformers film included a close-up of one of his murals—a gray, mouthless face with wide, searching eyes—before the camera panned to a weathered street typical of Havana, the sprawling capital that is home to more than two million people, one-fifth of Cuba’s population. He has even been featured by Amnesty International, which put out an “Urgent Action” bulletin in August of 2017, identifying him an “Urban Artist at Risk.”

Now he walks the streets, scanning the garbage heaped on street corners and overflowing from dumpsters. He picks out small slabs of plaster, concrete, or masonry that are shed daily from the city’s crumbling façades. Throughout the capital, even as the government builds massive new luxury hotels to fund itself, the homes of ordinary Cubans are falling apart. A building has even recently collapsed along the famed Malecón, the seaside walk where tourists and locals congregate.

The chunks of concrete that Yulier gathers become his canvases. He carries them to his small apartment in El Centro, an impoverished neighborhood abutting the scenic and tourist-swarmed Habana Vieja. On one slab, he paints a gray figure with a strip of red cloth tied around its head, warrior-style. The figure holds a paintbrush like a rifle, the golden shaft of the handle cradled in its arms. The face is downcast, at once sad and determined. Above it is the word Contra. On another slab, Yulier paints a perplexed figure with a ball and chain on its ankle and a blue police light on its head. When the paint has dried on each one, he carries it to the street and sets it back in the trash heap where he found it. Or he leaves it on a street corner. Then he waits until he sees a passing Cuban stop, pick up the stone tableau, and carry it away.

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Thanks !

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