A new law passed in Cuba in 2018 requires artists to obtain advance authorization from the government before engaging in any kind of artistic activity. The Decree 349 scrupulously lists what artists are and are not allowed to do if they want to obtain a permit. It is forbidden, for example, to depict members of the political class in works of art, except in complimentary fashion. Without authorization, artists are not only barred from making or selling art. They are prohibited from engaging in any kind of artistic activity, whether in public or privately.
Marco Castillo and some of his allies sought to renegotiate the law with the government, but in vain. It came into force. During those days and weeks, Castillo painted the series of white paintings that are now making their debut outside Cuba at KOW. The government’s art inspectors monitored him closely to make sure he did not make any work that was not according to their standards. At night, he would stretch canvases over frames, prime them, and paint on them with water, whose traces soon vanished. What we now see are not blank canvases but impossible pictures executed with painstaking care and perhaps to brilliant effect. Just without paint. Witnesses to, manifestos from, an imposed silence. Muzzled art.