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"I was kidnapped inside my own home," Yulier Rodriguez, 30, of Havana, Cuba, said. He is a visual artist, a quite prolific one, in fact. Before 2017, Yulier's politically-motivated street paintings were estimated to have covered over 200 walls in Havana. Now, Yulier calculates, there are only about 20 full paintings left. Most have been covertly destroyed by the government at night. The morning after, the murals look like they’ve succumbed to the natural decay that affects Havana’s buildings.



“You start to be censored when you (have) a level of credibility or promotion that affects the image of the government,” he said. And for Yulier, censorship wasn’t the only punishment for his political art; he was also kidnapped and thrown in jail. “They kidnap you, they interrogate you for five hours … they throw you between shit and trash and between criminals,” Yulier said.



Jail wasn’t the only punishment the Cuban government inflicted — it also threatened his family: it threatened to expel his girlfriend from her university and eliminate his mother’s prescription medication that she needed to survive.



But Yulier still paints. “I am part of a generation that grew up in fear. What I do is the result of all of that fear … All the frustration, all the impotence with which the Cuban people live. Fear, hunger, misery … all that accumulation of resentment,” he said. And Yulier’s work manifests these ideas. “My work talks about…part of the history that I have had to live and of which I am witness.”



When Yulier was imprisoned, the Cuban government forced him to sign a document saying he would never again paint on public walls. Yulier hasn’t painted on them since, but he’s found other ways to display his work in public; he doesn’t want people to continue to be brainwashed by the government. So — he continues to paint. He’s painted on rubble and on top of taxis so that the Cuban people can still see his messages of dissent everywhere.



When asked why he still paints despite threats and imprisonment, he said: “I am simply a person who decided to live without fear and decided to live free. And in front of me, I will not endure injustice.”


*For readability, quotes have been translated from Spanish to English.

The Cuban government forced Yulier to sign a document saying he would no longer paint on the street walls, so Yulier has started a new project called "El Regalo" (The Gift). He paints on rubble or scraps found on the street and puts them back as a gift to info
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