El Nuevo Día writes that Puerto Rican artist and former political prisoner Elizam Escobar died today at the age of 71, after health complications. Social networks and his Facebook page are abuzz with words of solidarity and tribute to the artist and poet. Here are excerpts from El Nuevo Día:
The School of Visual Arts and Design of Puerto Rico confirmed the death of the artist. [. . .] Performer Michelle O. R. shared a reflection on the physical departure of the plastic artist. “During a 2010 poetry performance I met Don Elizam Escobar. Since the moment I went down to the audience, we exchanged a few words, and from then on we continued our conversation for 11 years. Elizam is, and will be, a great example of courage, commitment, resistance … an #artist with a fierce talent, a #poet of intergalactic scale, and I am lucky that I was able to tell him that many times in person, to toast at Hnos Rivera with him for a colony that we both knew is going to fall. We will be as free as you Elizam, here we are, still fighting. Rest in power,” she wrote on Escobar’s Facebook page.
In early 2016 Escobar was diagnosed with cancer in the paranasal area and in the nasal cavity, when he underwent surgery.
Escobar stood out in the art field as a painter, poet, and art teacher. In the political sphere, he was a tireless defender in search of Puerto Rico’s independence. His life was a constant struggle through demands for justice for society.
He was a member of a Puerto Rican underground movement that fought for the independence of Puerto Rico; Escobar was sentenced to prison in 1980 by the United States government, accused of seditious conspiracy. He was imprisoned for 19 years, and was released in 1999.
In an interview published in El Nuevo Día in 2016, he reiterated that he never regretted fighting for the country’s independence. “No, I don’t regret it. On the contrary, I would do better. But obviously every historical moment has its demand. In another setting they asked me if I would do it again and what I said is that I believe that each historical era has its contradictions and its demands. At the time when I participated in the clandestine armed struggle, that was important, significant, and necessary for me because there was a right-wing movement that was assassinating independentists, workers, burning newspapers … And here we have always had an armed struggle, since the indigenous peoples until today. But, for example, at the time I arrived in Puerto Rico (in 1999) the main struggle was against the Navy in Vieques and the fight was one of peaceful resistance. And we respected and defended that kind of struggle. But at any time, when there is a different need, well one has to be creative,” he said.
The sixth edition of La Campechada exhibition in 2016 was dedicated to his artistic career.
The artist was born in Ponce and obtained his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Puerto Rico in 1973. He continued his studies at the City University of New York, according to the artist’s biography, published by the Puerto Rico Museum of Art (MAPR). After his imprisonment, he returned to Puerto Rico and began to work as a teacher at the School of Visual Arts and Design of Puerto Rico, in Old San Juan, teaching a generation of artists. According to the data from the MAPR biography, Escobar’s work raises issues of human communication, the phenomenon of the painter as an observer (or not) of reality, and contemporary marginality and isolation.
In the 2016 interview with this newspaper, the artist also shared his view of death.
“Death … Well, death while alive, no. But death—a death that is physical, biological—I believe is a stage of life. Nobody wants to die physically, unless you have a very strong illness that you want to escape, like Kafka who I think had tuberculosis and told the doctor, “Look, kill me, if you don’t kill me, you are a murderer.” So, it must be said that there is a moment when you may already want to leave this world because you can’t take it anymore. I believe that art is a response to death because it is a way of keeping alive all the passions, contradictions, achievements of humanity, an appreciation for everything, for nature, for the sea, for the universe. There are many people who make ephemeral art, which is cool, but why are we going to be more ephemeral than we already are, you know? I believe that art is what gives progression, continuity, to all human problems, to the mystery of being alive, because being alive is a very serious mystery,” said Escobar when interviewed by journalist Mariela Fullana.
Excerpts translated from the Spanish original by Ivette Romero. For original article, see https://www.elnuevodia.com/entretenimiento/cultura/notas/fallece-el-artista-y-exprisionero-politico-elizam-escobar/
Also see https://www.primerahora.com/entretenimiento/cultura-teatro/notas/fallece-el-artista-plastico-y-exprisionero-politico-elizam-escobar/ and https://www.elvocero.com/escenario/fallece-el-artista-pl-stico-y-preso-pol-tico-elizam-escobar/article_5ce9d81a-5737-11eb-814b-fb32c3111d07.html