`Angels and Demons' at the Immersive ART LAB Review - the first event in the Human Rights Foundation Art in Protest series premiers in San Francisco

Photography by Greg Autry*

The Celebrated Cuban political artist, activist, and former prisoner, Danilo,“El Sexto” Maldonado Machado’s bold and life inspired art, premiered at “Angels and Demon,” in San Francisco, May 11, 2017.

`Angels & Demons' artist "El Sexto,” Danilo Maldonado Machado

Today’s contemporary art scene is manifest upon a good story. A great story, is even better, and still better, when the art is bespoke of bold images, a florid style, and a use of color which transmits the artist's emotions brilliantly. All of this I found present when viewing the Opening Show on May 11.


`Angels & Demons' artist "El Sexto,” Danilo Maldonado Machado

In the United States we are allowed, perhaps compelled to voice our descent regarding our government and our leaders. Regardless of the side of the aisle you occupy in this country, Americans share our inalienable right, `Freedom of Speech,’ which allows us to voice our choice however we wish.

This is a choice that Danilo, “El Sexto,” Maldonado Machado did not have in his country. Over half of the world’s population live under authoritarian governments and risk their lives if they choose to use their voice in dissent. Think about that !

`Angels & Demons' artist "El Sexto,” Danilo Maldonado Machado

Danilo was compelled to voice his descent in his native Cuba in the only voice he had available to him. In an annual event in his hometown, participants are invited to a “game’ chasing pigs, the reward for anyone able to catch one, is that they get to keep the pig. When Danilo brought two pigs to the event, which he had named Raul and Fidel, he was immediately jailed.  Another time, spray painting the side of a building with the names Fidel and Castro, followed with an empathetic “No”, he was jailed again. To vent his frustration with the barely palpable living conditions, he chose artistic expression, in lieu of violence.

`Angels & Demons' artist "El Sexto,” Danilo Maldonado Machado

Released, his next act was more brazen, listening to his inner voice that all artist know, he sat about to follow his heart, when on November 25th 2016, at the age of 90, Fidel Castro died, Danilo wrote upon a wall once again, with the simple Words “He’s Gone.”

Rearrested, he was sent to Ville Grande, the most notorious maximum security prison in Cuba where he spent years in the most horrid unimaginable conditions. Subjected to unmentionable indignity, kept in a tiny squalid cell, Danilo’s imagination took hold and instead of being cowed and broken, his inner artistic voice was again called forth through his art.

`Angels & Demons' artist "El Sexto,” Danilo Maldonado Machado

With pencils and paper smuggled in to him he began to make small drawings telling the story of a life that would not be shunned.  These drawings, owned by a single Patron, are at the core of the Art Show presented now at `ANGELS & DEMONS,’ the first event in the Human Rights Foundation’s Art in Protest Series. Curated by HRF’s Holly Baxter and produced by the artist's representative, Adam D’Arcy, “El Sexto’s” unique paintings and drawings will be on display from May 11-24.

The show is presented in collaboration with Immersive Art Lab as the inaugural event at their 3255A 3rd Street location in San Francisco’s Dogpatch district. The exhibition space is designed by Jenny Boyle at JBI Designs and constructed by Ben Morgenstern’s team at Immersive Art Lab.

Art is a powerful political voice, and this show is presented with Danilo’s signature pieces radiating an anti-authoritarian sentiment, with symbols of authority represented as pigs, monkeys, cows and other animals. Sometimes textual, these drawings provide an insight into the artist's mind during intense times of captivity. The drawings were, for him, a means of salvation. They were "the angels protecting him from the demons that had him physically surrounded."

As you walk into the Gallery space, a long wall on the left is filled with paintings which Danilo completed within a month prior of the Gallery Show opening.  These paintings, about half of the show, represent the visions, dreams, and nightmares the artist experienced during his time imprisoned, and correspond to Tarot Cards.

Danilo goes by the name “El Sexto,” Spanish, meaning “the Sixth,”  naming himself after the Cuban Five, a group of spies convicted of espionage in the United States and celebrated as propaganda heroes by the Cuban dictatorship. El Sexto considers the people of Cuba the true heroes and believes his art serves as a voice for them. He began his devotion to art at a young age when he was caught drawing a portrait of a uniformed Fidel Castro with the head of a monkey.

His mother destroyed the drawing out of fear for what the Cuban regime is known to do to those who challenge and mock them. She demanded that he never draw anything like it again. However, Danilo’s irrepressible nature would ensure that this was just the start of his lifelong critique of oppression and authoritarianism and leads us to the subject matter of his work today.

Danilo has received acclaim worldwide and was awarded the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent for his contributions towards individual rights in Cuba. He has been written about in books, spoken at numerous international venues including the United Nations, the Oslo Freedom Forum, the Geneva Summit for Human Rights, and the US Senate Foreign Affairs Hearing.

Most recently El Sexto was featured in Julian Schnabel’s HBO documentary ‘Patria o Muerte.’ El Sexto has been censored, tortured and detained, and yet he remains outspoken, untouched and free. He has watched his art be destroyed and retaliates by tattooing it across his skin. Danilo uses his art as a voice for people everywhere who refuse to submit to the censorship of arbitrary authority.

Angels & Demons is the first of the Human Rights Foundation’s Art in Protest Series, which will showcase other artists at the Oslo Freedom Forum, May 22nd to 24th. The Art in Protest series was created to promote and showcase artists using their talent to criticize and challenge oppressive government regimes. 

Angels and Demons at the Immersive ART LAB, 3255A 3rd Street, in San Francisco. I highly recommend the show.  For me, this Cuban artist, offers a ray of light as to how we “Americans” might choose to use our Voice, in dissent, to spark intelligent discussion regarding issues, and to bring about change in our own country.

*All Images ©2017GregAutry All Rights Reserved

** Artwork used with Permission. The Artist retains all rights.

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