Pedestrians were shocked to see a man putting up an unusual performance in a public place in Havana, where he was supposedly using one of the few wifi hotspots available in Cuba to communicate with his wife abroad, and give her a surprise on their first wedding anniversary.
One Saturday morning, Luis Manuel Otero hired a pair of Mariachis to join him while he performed the sensual dance in front of his camera phone for his partner and the world to see.
Later, it was known that Luis Manuel is a visual artist, and that his public striptease was a performance titled United by WiFi.
Otero’s work sought to reflect on the lack of privacy Cubans have to face when accessing the Internet – a service that cannot be hired at homes, and that they can only use in a few parks and squares across the country.
“This performance is born out of my annoyance with the fact that this is virtually the only option millions of Cubans have when they want to use the service. That’s why I thought of this wedding anniversary celebration and the public striptease, I thought it was a good chance for everyone to participate, and have some fun maybe,” said the artist in an interview with OnCuba.
Luis Manuel, who is self-taught, does not consider himself a performance artist, nor a sculptor – even though a large part of his work is closely related to the two.
“I’m really interested in social art, that reaches everyone. I’m interested in going out of the gallery, although art in galleries has its own place, but right now there are other spaces where art works, where it has another, additional, function and is where it makes someone reflect on its message. I’m particularly interested in how people respond in spaces where no-one knows it is a performance,” he added.
He is also provocative. Months ago, during the 12th Havana Biennale, Luis Manuel took over many of the event´s spaces with a polemical and intrusive piece that not all appreciated.
Dressed as a cabaret dancer, the artist turned up at whichever exhibition he wanted, stealing the show and the viewers’ attention.
“In Miss Biennial I use the stereotype of the cabaret dancer, but this time the stereotype of a transgender dancer, as a way to begin a discussion about how we are perceived from outside, or how we perceive ourselves, all from a representational platform, from the point of view of art, of the Havana Biennial.
“It was where I showed how desperate a Cuban artist can seem. I gave out cards with my real details, as though I was a prostitute. I got involved in all of the expositions. It was a super aggressive and invasive piece and at the same time very viral and mediated. The whole world saw Miss Biennial.”
Luis Manuel Otero is an artist in search of a space within the art circuit – space that, due to its self-critical nature, is a little bit harder to reach – from which to defend what art is to him and why he does it.
For now, his most recent works show us a constant search and a need to talk, to incite.
United by WiFi is a faithful test of this.