The art market in Cuba has been completely closed during the pandemic, leading the community to turn to digital markets in order to survive. However, the artists say they remain censored due to US sanctions against Cuba, with US-based platforms such as the Non-perishable Tokens (NFT) market going to extremes to delete content and accounts linked to the same country.
Censorship began in January with the sudden closure of the account Fabrica de Arte Cubano – an art gallery that offered exposure to emerging artists.
As Cuban visual artist and founder of the CryptoCubans project, Gabriel Bianchini, explains: “The ban sanctions are so vague that the platforms would rather not take any risks and close our accounts.”
This type of censorship is common for Cuban artists who display their work on the Internet. Ernesto Cisneros, musician and NFT artist, recounted his own experience as a tragic one after losing all of his earnings on Patreon due to the ban during the pandemic. This experience brought him to Web3, unaware that the same story would be repeated again. He said:
“I helped get many artists into web3. But then OpenSea started blocking Cuban artists one by one. I stopped using this market altogether when I learned that they were censoring because of the ban.”
In addition to the consequences of censorship, they believe that Cuban artists have an increased susceptibility to hacking victims. Such is the case for Avnero, an NFT artist from Havana. “There are antivirus programs that are not working properly because I am in Cuba,” he says, claiming that the lack of proper digital protection allowed an attacker — passing an interested buyer — to send him a virus via a Zoom link that would otherwise have been detected by the program. Avnero claimed that this oversight allowed the attacker to take over his MetaMask wallet, which led to the theft of his earnings and the loss of his user profiles in several NFT marketplaces.
However, there is clear progress on the technological side that is being made through official channels. The government of Cuba recently announced that it is open to the use of cryptocurrencies, which raised hopes for adoption at a rapid pace. Even if this happened, it would still be highly regulated by citizens. Now, the arrival of blockchain smart contracts has changed the rules of the game for Cubans looking to send their messages back to the world. Bianchini said:
“There is nothing more independent than a smart contract. Once you know how to program it, there is nothing to stop you. What happened with Fábrica de Arte was an alarm to show society towards a new direction. I think we will build our independence, because now we have this opportunity.”