A rising young Cuban artist who goes by the single name of Kcho has been denied a visa by the U.S. State Department to attend the opening of his exhibition Sunday at the Museum of Contemporary Art, even though he has previously been allowed to visit the United States.
According to MOCA assistant curator Alma Ruiz, the entry visa was denied after pressure from Cuban Americans who reportedly complained about the artist’s activities relating to his 1996 exhibition at New York’s Barbara Gladstone Gallery.
Ruiz said that her MOCA colleague, chief curator Paul Schimmel, contacted the State Department when the visa was denied in September.
“The reason they gave is that Kcho broke the law when he visited the U.S. a year ago, because he had done work here,” she said. Kcho had been on a tourist visa at the time, thus apparently violating the terms of his entry by conducting business.
“He created two sculptures,” Ruiz said. “Artists do that all the time; they travel and create works on site.”
The State Department could not be reached for comment late Friday.
The 27-year-old sculptor, born Alexis Leyva Machado but known as Kcho (pronounced KAH-cho), has in recent years developed an international reputation for poetic installations that employ wistful, sometimes ruined imagery of boats. His MOCA show includes numerous sculptures made of wire armatures covered in clay, as well as an installation that suggests an open-air book stall set up in the configuration of a boat’s hull.
Ruiz said the museum invited Kcho to create an installation specifically for the museum in the fall of 1995. After his 1996 show at Gladstone, the artist traveled to Los Angeles, visited the museum and photographed the exhibition spaces.
On Sept. 8, Ruiz received a fax from the artist that said, in Spanish, “Bad news! The State Department does not want me to travel. Visa denied.”
At Kcho’s request, his fax will be displayed in the MOCA exhibition.
“Apparently no reason was given to him,” Ruiz said of the visa denial. “It has to do with the fluctuating state of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and with the Cuban American lobby in the U.S. They had complained about his show in New York after they saw a story in the New York Times.”
All the work for the MOCA exhibition was created in Kcho’s Havana studio. It was shipped to Los Angeles through Mexico.
Ruiz said an entry visa also had been denied to Kcho in 1993.