THE ART WORKS BY THE MEXICAN ARTIST ARTURO REYES IMPOUNDED BY THE NEW YORK POLICE IN 1983.
After spending two years in Europe, I decided
to return to Mexico via New York in the spring of 1983. Upon my arrival at J.F.K airport
it seemed as if the police were waiting for me. I was arrested immediately and taken into
a dark cell. Three days of humiliating interrogation followed, during which I was
stripped, meticulously searched and tortured. The police argued that I was part of an
international terrorist organisation that operated in Europe, smuggling weapons to the
guerrillas in Latin-America. They could not prove anything but when they opened my luggage
and saw that my art works were 'too political', they immediately confiscated them as proof
of my 'terrorism'. Against this barbarity I strongly protested but in vain; I was kept
incommunicado, isolated and humiliated in the corner of a dark cell. It was the last time
that I saw my drawings. More humiliating interrogations ensued, sometimes lasting for
hours. After the third day of confinement they decided to release me and immediately put
me on a plane to Mexico City.
The New York experience made it clear to me how effectively the secret police cooperate on an international level. I feared police harassment in Mexico. I had been forced to go underground three years before and after the New York experience, I was expecting the worst.
The plane journey seemed eternal. I had no choice. I could neither go back to Europe nor stay in the USA. But my arrival in Mexico went surprisingly smoothly. I Immediately contacted the airport authorities regarding my art works, with no success. I lobbied the Mexican art world but it showed no interest in my case. I was devastated. I could hardly believe that the result of nearly four years of hard work had just disappeared in a click of the fingers. I fell sumerged into a terrible depression. The suffering lasted for months until a beautiful spring morning when I decided to pay homage to these art works and I embarked upon the task of reproducing them from memory. It was a wearying enterprise. Sometimes I feel that this process is still ongoing. To have lost my art works taken away by the most hydrophobic police in the world devastated me psychologically and caused a tremendous truncation of my life as an artist. Furthermore, the lack of interest shown by the 'art world' only helped to deepen my grievance, and the event seriously imperilled the continuation of my career as a professional artist. It became clear to me that the artist was no more than a commercial package, like a tin of baked beans or any other commodity. When I requested the support of the art world in claiming back my art works they showed no interest as I was not a recognised artist and because no money was involved. I used to be a devoted believer in the Artworld, i.e., art criticism, galleries, art institutions, art history, the philosophy of art. To be sure, I thought that being an artist was the most advanced stage that humankind had hitherto reached, and for that very reason as an artist one would automatically expect the respect and honour of the entire world.
After several months of a tireless work I managed to author around eighty drawings to the original sizes and technique, (charcoal on paper). Although my new offspring did not turn out the same as the originals that I had in mind, I can honestly say that the new works made me feel much better.
Some years later I was obliged again obliged to leave the country for the same reasons I had left did six years before. Europe again welcomed me, again although this time it was the latter pervaded by a xenophobia, which worsened my situation rather than alleviating it.
The new works have been produced over several years, most of them abroad. The process has been long and painful. It was as if the great love of my life had died without our love having been effectively consummated.
The works have been shown in Mexico City, San Francisco California, Texas, Albuquerque New Mexico, Stockholm and in London in a period of about ten years.
Although this is the third edition -the first edition was published in 1986- the book (now in CD) is still incomplete as it contains just over seventy of the one hundred and twenty confiscated works. The book should have been published a long time ago. Many peripeties have impeded it although the majority of these have been to do with the tremendous psychological impact caused by loosing the works in such a circumstances. You may argue weakness of character or the like, but an artist's own art works are the single and most precious treasure that one has; to loose them is like practically chopping off a part of his owns body, or like a woman giving birth to a child who dies a few hours later. It took me years to come to terms with this inferno and to be able to talk and even to write about it. I was then quite young and inexperienced. I felt myself to be very isolated. The 'art world' was not interested in my case, but I expected more understanding from the International left. I remember with distress how the magazine Mother Jones, published by 'radicals' in San Francisco, California did showed not interest whatsoever in the story or the pictures. In Stockholm, I mounted an exhibition to which I invited especially the Swedish left. I wanted them to fund the publication of both the story and the book but they were not interested. Only the then Maoist left published a review of the show in their weekly newspaper. Inevitably the life of a true artist and activist is full of tribulations. But that's another story.
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