January 10, 2018
In a blow to the artistic community in the Dominican Republic, a mural by the renowned painter and actor Ángel Haché—who passed away in 2016—was partly erased at building belonging to the Universidad Tecnológica de Santiago [Technological University of Santiago, UTESA], a private university.
With the title of “Obreros recogiendo nubes” [Workers Collecting Clouds] the mural depicts a working class scene where three construction workers appear to be collecting clouds.
On Jan. 5 Haché’s widow, Elsa Núñez, an artist herself, posted an image of the damaged artwork and condemned UTESA for erasing her husband’s mural via social media:
“This is the mural painted by my late husband Ángel Haché in UTESA. The head of the university issued the command to erase it.”
Soon after, several messages of sympathy from people who were outraged to find out about the erasure of Haché’s mural flooded her Facebook wall. Additionally, her post has been shared widely in social media ever since.
Officials at UTESA responded to the public outcry by stating that the mural was supposedly in “bad condition” and that the institution of higher learning took the decision to erase it to avoid “debris from falling on passersby.”
But the public outcry pressured UTESA to make amends. On Jan. 8, Elsa Núñez met with the dean of UTESA to discuss her late husband’s mural and its restoration. At the end of the meeting, authorities from UTESA agreed to restore the mural.
Núñez’s social media post was instrumental in bringing attention to the destruction of public art. Ever since, she has received support from friends, intellectuals and other artists. In fact, members of the Colegio Dominicano de Artistas Plásticos [Association of Dominican Artists, CODAP] were present at the recent meeting.
Destroying Public Art
The partial deletion of Ángel Haché’s mural is not an isolated incident. Ironically, it is not petty vandals who are behind the destruction of public art but those in the highest echelons of power who could care less about art, people’s history and collective memory.
For quite some time, the state and its affiliates have erased several murals known for having historical and artistic value. One of the reasons why this happens often has to do with a lack of accountability from part of government officials.
Another reason is how public works projects and renovations are carried out without any type of urban planning in mind or concern to preserve historical artifacts.
In 2015, workers at a public school erased 23 murals by Eligio Pichardo, another renowned artist. According to Ruahidy Lombert, an art conservationist: “ The deletion of these works went ahead despite efforts from regional authorities to conserve them.”
In 2016, the destruction of a mural in the Santo Domingo Autonomous University (UASD) by painter Silvano Lora led to a public outcry. Those in charge of carrying out renovation work at UASD were responsible.
Other murals have faced the same fate especially in El Conde street, where gentrification is rapidly transforming public space.
But resistance to privatization of public spaces and the destruction of public art keeps unscrupulous government officials and private institutions in check as the quick and bold response from public opinion in defense of Ángel Haché’s work indicates.