Art attack of the Empire


The devious attack took place between March 15 and 20, 1983. I have told it on very few occasions, however it has been circulating through my Internet portal for some years. My attitude towards the fact was of little importance despite the sentimental magnitude so high. Due in part to the fact that at that time there was nobody in Mexico that defended the rights of artists, and partly due to a perhaps wrong attitude of mine regarding the importance of the fact in artistic terms and my little sense for individual advertising, that is to say, sinning humbly, I did nothing about it except for some meager attempts shortly after the accident. Once again I decided to count it to illustrate that the intolerant and even racist attitude of the US authorities posted at customs and borders with Mexico is not recent. The drawings numbered 1-76 are copies of works that were taken from me by the New York Police on the dates indicated above. The event happened when I was returning from Europe via New York. I was returning from Europe after a stay of almost two years during which I carried out an intense plastic and political activity within the European solidarity movement. With me I brought a cardboard tube full of pencil and charcoal drawings as well as printed designs of posters and flyers that I had designed during my stay there. Many alerted me to the fact that at the airport customs in the aforementioned city, they were extremely rabid. I argued that I would not enter the United States, I would simply approach a flight connection to Mexico, what's more, I naively said, I have not chosen it that way, it is the flight company that routinely does it from decades ago, so that somehow there will have to be guarantees for passengers using their services. None of that worked because getting off the European aircraft and heading to my flight connection to Mexico at the same airport, -I did not leave the confines of John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport, simply because it was not possible without a visa already that there were customs controls everywhere-, I was intercepted by New York police officers who claimed to bring orders to arrest and interrogate me. They then took me to offices within the same airport and proceeded to torture me psychologically for several days. They accused me of being an arms dealer for the Central American guerrillas and they wanted me to give them names, contacts, and places to collect, transfer, and send the "cargoes." They slapped me several times without being able to give them the information they required, which was practically impossible for me, since I had nothing to do with all that. They argued that they had information about me from both Mexico and Europe, and then flaunting their inquisitive power they presented me with my tube of drawings and designs that I mentioned above. According to their intelligence inquiries (not theirs but that is what detective and espionage activity is called) there was the evidence of what I was accused of. In other words, my art had become evidence of a "crime" that the United States of America was taking away the right to manufacture from me. After hours of questioning where I could not have opinions but only answer their questions, they left me alone for a few moments, after which they returned with the verdict that my works were going to be seized because the topics covered in them threatened the security of the state of the American Union and that they were going to keep me under arrest for two more days pending more results in the investigation of my case. At the end of the third day in the morning they woke me up very early and heading towards me with all kinds of expletives, they took me to the Mexicana de Aviación plane that would take me to Mexico City (today it would have been to Guantanamo Bay where they have all falsely accused of being terrorists) If the helplessness that I felt the three days I spent in the police divisions of the JFK filled me with an uncontrollable and immense anger at the same time as a deep depression before such an outrage of my individual jurisdiction, nothing of that diminished when arriving in Mexico because in The Benito Juárez International Airport (AICM) of those days was chaos and intolerance like never before. They lost my suitcases and the trunks were a shortcut for angry mules who could not be asked anything without getting upset; the derogatory office workers reluctantly took note of my complaint. They suggested I return the next day because my bags had apparently been "delayed" in New York for reasons they could not explain. I never saw my suitcases again. Days later, I presented my complaint to an incipient Consumer Attorney's Office, who wasted no time in showing his incompetence, bureaucracy, and lack of respect for my complaint (This is how all the Institutions of the Mexican State of those days were, will they be different today?)

Seeing myself under lethal attack on my human and citizen integrity, I plunged into a dangerously uncreative depression. My habit of not talking to anyone about my personal troubles, much less to my family then, however I made the effort to involve the Mexican ´art establishment´ with my case without any result. I sent letters to the Uno mas Uno, El Universal, El Dia, El Excelsior, I tried to contact Raquel Tibol, Juan Acha, among others. Perhaps the lack of attention to my case in those days was due to my lack of fame and fortune as an artist or as a citizen. Remember that the ‘discovery’ of human rights occurred several decades later. Of course, an artist without fame, without money and without citizen rights like I was in those days (today I am still without fame or fortune but I have already 'discovered' my citizen rights, today called humans, but of which we have still a lot to be desired) did not merit any attention, or perhaps extraterritorial threats from the United States intelligence department took care of the rest? Was not my art the dangerous one but my political action both in Mexico in the recent past and in Europe? The case of Cubans at the Sherton in 2006 alerts us to this possibility and leaves us with a lot to think about. After the failure to alert the Mexican establishment “art establishment “ to my case, I fell into a deep depression that lasted for several months and made me lose a lot of creative time. The mere fact of thinking that all my graphic work emerged during a period of intense creative activity of more than a year and that reached a crucial technical and conceptual maturity for my later career, had been expropriated, snatched as atrocious as unfairly by the most mighty enemy of mankind on earth at this time, first filled me with grief but later turned to pride and glee as he reconsidered the case and finally understood and evaluated that every philosophical category on the latter since Platon through Winckelman, Kant, Hegel, Adorno until Juan Acha and Raquel Tibol (keeping the comparisons of philosophical depth), for a strange feeling I felt that they supported my cause and that I could also add the fact that I had made the monster angry and that all of this together meant more for my artistic career, all the attention that the "Mexican art establishment" could have given me. All that remained within me. I never ever mentioned the case in a public way to anyone; I swallowed everything, while I received no support from anyone. In an attempt to overcome the impasse, I dedicated myself to delving into my memory and began to redo the stolen works; the end result was not exactly the original for both technical and memory reasons but consider the latter product as a metaphor for the original. I never finished the series and to this day I still feel visited by the memory of those works. In my short stay in Mexico, my creative activity continued on its normal course, but this time linked to an increasingly intense political activism that led me once again to enjoy the hatred of the Mexican state as it was before, which led me to my first exile in 1979. Several of these political activities contributed to the founding of the PRD -of sad memory now- in Cd. Netzahualcóyotl; others were related to CLETA (artistic center for theatrical and artistic experimentation) and related artistic and cultural groups plus those that split from there; and some more that were called clandestine, of which it is obvious that I should not speak here. The total conglomerate of these interchangeably artistic and political interventions won me again the police repression for which I had to shelter myself and in the end leave the country again for Europe where I stayed for almost five decades. Of my wanderings and social and political activism in conjunction with the practice of art in Europe will be the reason for a separate book.



Arturo Reyes

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