El Salvador elections, 2014

Salvadorans go back to the polls Sunday to pick a mayor and a bunch of lawmakers. If last year's presidential elections are any indicator, this should prove to be another circus of uninformed people choosing incompetent leaders, as is the case in every country on earth. It is probably impossible for anyone, anywhere to make an informed decision about a thing they know nothing about, because all the ugliness on all sides has been carefully, painstakingly hidden from them. Democracy seems like a failed experiment but don't ask me to come up with a better alternative. Don't ask me to vote, either. I still want my two Obama votes back. As Johnny Rotten said, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"


Couple, Espinazo, Nuevo Leon, Mexico

I don't know what year I took this picture but it was at least 10 years ago. A lovely, wonderful couple.

For those who like to read ...

... and I hope that's all of you, I've posted something new and real over at Medium.

It's called Feeding time and it's about a woman, booze, drug dealers, threats of violence, and disappointment. H

How can you go wrong?

I have three other pieces at Medium that are well-worth reading.

If you'd like to read something completely different, check out this essay, On Canvas, Authority Unleashed: Caravaggio’s Taking of Christ.

Wishing all of you a great week.

- js


Early Post-War Mexico

Highly Recommended

If you're in Chicago, or going to be visiting, go see this exhibition of paintings by my greatly talented friend Eulalio Fabie de Silva and Oscar Luis Martinez. Seeing digital images of art on the internet does not even compare to seeing it in real life and Eulalio's work has to be seen in person to be appreciated. The opening reception is 6-10 p.m. March 13, 2015.


"... For they know not what they do."

Jesus said that when they were about to strap him to the cross and drive in the nails. As that was happening, his Roman executioners were selling off his clothes to the poor. It's a story Vincent Van Gogh, who was a wandering preacher before he was a painter, knew very well.

The muppets whose job it is to bring people in to New York museums recently came to the sad conclusion that Starry Night, Van Gogh's most famous painting, needed a little change in external context to liven it up. So they brought in their charismatic advisor, Cookie Monster.

Poor Vincent, who suffered more than any other artist I can think of to create a sublime art that would be taken seriously - fighting against mental illness, poverty, family rejection and a market that didn't care whether he lived or died - would not have thought much of this shameless attempt to sell overpriced museum tickets.

According to one media report on The Muppets Take the Manhattan Art Scene (which included the Guggenheim and the MOMA):

"The reactions of people to a real-life Sesame Street resident might be the only thing more intriguing than the museum's Modern art pieces.Some bounce in uncontrollable delight, calling the encounter with both the Muppet (sic) and the man behind the Muppet (longtime Muppeteer David Rudman "life-changing."

Yes. The reactions of children and stupid people to Cookie Monster were more intriguing, according to that writer, than the sum effect of the MOMA's collection which includes works by Mondrian, Matisse, Monet, Warhol, Picasso, Newman, Cezanne and Joseph Beuys. You have to feel bad for MOMA's curators. After spending nearly a century acquiring the most important work of the 20th and 21st Centuries, all their efforts have been eclipsed by a puppet.

Van Gogh wanted his work to be contemplated deeply, without distraction. He hoped to bring tranquility to troubled souls.

As the painter wrote to his brother Theo in the 1889 letter in which he first discussed Starry Night, "I only wish that someone could prove to us something calming which comforted us, so that we stopped feeling guilty or unhappy and that we could go forward without losing ourselves in the solitude or nothingness, and without having to fear every step, or to nervously calculate the harm we may unintentionally be doing to others."

That was Van Gogh's mission. Always. Until, less than a year after painting Starry Night, and in a fit of despair provoked by a terrible mental illness, poverty, and loneliness, he shot himself in a cornfield and died slowly over 48 grueling hours. I wonder if Cookie Monster can convey that part of the story - which is all too common in art. 


El Salvador prisons: Human rights violations?

In a move clearly orchestrated to pander to voters before San Salvador's mayoral elections, prison officials have transferred high-profile gang members from prisons such as Cojutepeque to a maximum security facility in Zacatecoluca. There, they will be denied visitors and subjected to 23-hour-a-day lockdown.

El Salvador obviously has a problem with gang violence. And "getting tough" on gang members makes many voters there happy. It's hard to imagine any other reason (apart from sheer cruelty) to not only move the prisoners to a Guantanamo-like detention center, but for prison officials to make a video such as the one above.

Nayib Bukele, of the center-left party Faribundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN for it's initials in Spanish, is expected to defeat Edwin Zamora of the conservative ARENA party in elections sheduled for March 1. Bukele who has mounted a high-profile media campaign, has a clear advantage given that Salvadoran President Salvador Sanchez Ceren also represents the FMLN.

Whatever happens on election day, moving prisoners to a dark prison where they are permitted only an hour a day outside of their cells, and more often than not are locked up alone, seems to violate the spirit of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and more recent recommendations by UN experts on torture.

“Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique,” UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez told the UN General Assembly’s third committee in 2011.

Méndez defined solitary confinement as isolation from anyone except guards for more than 22 hours a day. The video suggest prisoners are often locked alone in dark cells, those ones with the black solid metal doors.

I have no particular love for killers or members of El Salvador's gangs. I've personally been targeted by rogue members of one of them. But rules are rules and the rights of human beings should never be violated, particularly to gain votes. Unfortunately, torturing and neglecting the poor in exchange for power and money is business as usual for politicians the world over.

Carlos Mujica at Cojutepeque prison, photograph by John Sevigny

In 2012, I met and interviewed Carlos Mojica Lechuga, a high-ranking member of the Barrio 18 gang. A few years earlier he'd been transferred from the Zacatecaluca prison to a facility in the town of Cojutepeque. Mojica, who has spent most of his life behind bars in prisons in the United States and El Salvador, told me that as filthy, uncomfortable and overcrowded as the Cojutepeque prison was, "Zacatecaluca is the worst place in the world."

Lin is one of at least 30 prisoners moved back to Zacatecaluca this week. Which makes you wonder, if nothing else, why keep moving these people around?

The answer is political.


Portrait of Vicky to be included in group exhibition in Chicagoland

Portrait of Vicky

This portrait of my friend Vicky, a Salvadoran woman battling cancer, will be included in the group exhibition Small Works on Paper, starting March 1 at Arterie Fine Arts in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb west of Chicago. I took the photograph last year with help from my student Luis Flores, who made his own series of portraits of the same woman the same night.

Arterie is located at 190 East 5th Avenue in Naperville. For more information call (630) 428-4639 or write to info@arteriefinearts.com