The SPARC Gallery, in the old jail of the city of Venice, opened its doors on Saturday June 4th to give life to the political cartoons of Gerardo Hernandez, one of the Five Heroes of the Republic of Cuba. Hernandez created the cartoons during long years of imprisonment in maximum security prisons in the United States.
As Gerardo explained in his message to the audience "The cartoons that you are about to see were not made with the idea that some day they would be displayed all together in an art exhibit. Amongst other things, I respond continuously to hundreds of solidarity letters and I do this work lacking the material and appropriate conditions of a real artist. I am an art aficionado who draws cartoons out of necessity to express myself in a certain way. This necessity is to send out a message to our people, or to express my perspective before different events such as the birthdays of someone who we admire or the death of a friend for example. That is what has motivated the work that you will be viewing today..."
As people entered the gallery they could observe a memorial honoring renowned civil right attorney Leonard Weinglass, who was part of the legal team of the Five and who recently passed away.
The well-attended event also featured the artwork ofLalo Alcaraz, creator of the nationally syndicated daily cartoon "La Cucaracha"; Matt Wuerker, the Politico's editorial cartoonist and illustrator; Judy Baca and Emily Winters. Well known Spanish artist, and long time supporter of the Cuban 5, Paco Bernal, also contributed his work to the exhibit. Part of the exhibit was an installation piece that imitated the prison space where Gerardo created his works. Gerardo is currently serving two unjust life sentences.
The evening program included an informational panel and a section of question and answers. Suzanne Thompson, from the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 was the MC. Ms. Thompson gave a warm welcome to the public and thanked all of the individuals and organizations that made this cultural event possible.
Debra Padilla, Executive Director of SPARC gave a warm introduction to Gerardo's cartoons and expressed they were honored to offer the space for cultural expressions such as "Humor from my Pen". Alicia Jrapko, from the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5, presented an update of the case of the Cuban 5 and read a message from Gerardo Hernandez intended for the audience. Jrapko spoke of the national and international campaigns in support of the Five and invited people to join in their struggle.
Judy Baca, Artistic Director of SPARC, said that only the best cartoonist, such as Gerardo, can quickly take contemporary issues such as these and find the absurdity in them. Carol Wells, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, said that throughout history the struggles for justice have always had a component of artistic expressions such as graphics, illustrations and murals.
Finally, Emily Winters, co-founder of the Venice Art Council, spoke about the importance of continuing to fight and defend our cultural organizations that are under serious danger of disappearing due to the economic crisis that is affecting all sectors of community programs.
An emotional highlight of the evening came when Gerardo called not knowing the event was still in process. Gerardo was able to briefly greet the audience and thank them for their support in the struggle to free the Cuban 5. Those in attendance spontaneously broke into a heartfelt rendition of Happy Birthday. As coincidence would have it, at that moment in walked renowned American composer and musician, Jackson Browne. Mr. Browne took the phone and greeted Gerardo and encouraged him to keep strong.
Information about the exhibit at SPARC was announced in the popular webpage ¡SiCuba! SoCal, where all cultural events related to Cuba in Southern California are announced. One of the other events listed is the remarkable exhibit of photographs entitled "A Revolutionary Project: Cuba from Walker Evans to Now", currently at the Getty Museum.
The announcement of the event also appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News . The Argonaut newspaper published an article about the activity including information about the case of the Cuban 5. The Argonaut covers communities on the west side of Los Angeles and has a distribution of 90,000.
During the week that preceded the opening of the exhibit, several programs in English and Spanish on Pacifica radio station KPFK included updates of the case of the Cuban 5 in their programming and information about the opening of "Humor from my Pen". These programs included Sojourner Truth , hosted by Margaret Prescod, where actor Ed Asner and members of the International Committee were invited to participate. Asner is a co-chair of the campaign, Actors and Artists United fro the Freedom of the Cuban 5. Other programs that covered the Five were The Lawyers Guild hosted by Jim Lafferty, Pocho Hour of Power, a program hosted by Lalo Alcaraz and Perspectiva de las Americas hosted by Raymundo Reynoso.
Also on Saturday, June 4th, host Tanya Torres of the Spanish program Cantos sin Fronteras, which reaches all the way to Gerardo's cell, read hundreds of messages that had arrived from all over the world for the occasion of Gerardo's birthday. There were many more messages than could be read in the course of the show.
The exhibit "Humor from my Pen" was organized by the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 and co-sponsored by Aris Anagnos, Joe Perez and the actors Susan Sarandon, Ed Harris and James Cromwell.
Endorsers of the event included SPARC, ¡Si Cuba! SoCal, Venice Art Council, KPFK, Canal Club, James Beach, the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, Danny's Venice, and the SEIU West
If you are interested in bringing the cartoon art of Gerardo Hernandez "Humor from my Pen" to your city write to firstname.lastname@example.org