This text is part of the Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art: A Digital Archive and Publications Project- a digital archive and publications project at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. And in 1999 won the Pen Club Award for Best Creative Essay.
This text by Elizam Escobar, a noted Puerto Rican nationalist, artist, and writer, is a largely autobiographical account of his artistic and political evolution in the island and the United States. Written in prison, the essay reflects on his experience as an incarcerated artist, and considers make-do aesthetics and philosophical ideas related to art and politics, especially liberty. Escobar brings to the fore his situation as follows: “I am simultaneously an artist and imprisoned political activist. As a political prisoner and prisoner of war, others see me as a symbol and/or a martyr of the independence cause—an immolated living being. But as a thinker-activist who need to conceptualize and determine his role . . . I refuse to play the role of a ‘passive’ martyr.” Escobar writes that the practice of making his art helps him overcome the context of living in prison. As he declares, “Surrounded by obscenity, art becomes a salvation, the sacred activity of liberty.”