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Page 27

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Portrait of the Artist as Political Prisoner

By Billy X. Curmano

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I constructed the "Tiger Cage on Wheels" as a performance sculpture that could draw attention to political prisoners in Vietnam. VVAW—and a select few other groups—dragged it through anti-war demonstrations in the '70s, but it has always had a second life in exhibitions and performances traveling across the country.

The cage is welded steel, large and heavy. I rode in it. I pulled others in it and documented most everything. I had to carry it by truck or send it to motor freight. It became too expensive for me to show. And yet, it still seemed important. I reworked the general concept with a lighter, wearable lock-up that allows me the luxury of mobility.

When I put this new sculpture on, each frozen moment becomes a "Portrait of the Artist as Political Prisoner." It's a pop-up reminder of our precious freedoms contrasted with the plight of the world's detainees, refugees, political prisoners and prisoners of conscience—the unseen—the unheard. Those who have spoken out for justice live alternative lifestyles or simply become victims of happenstance and are imprisoned. Add to that the children, elderly and infirm locked away in containment facilities. They have no voice, and so I DO NOT SPEAK.

My audiences may feel ambushed, surprised and startled. But still, I DO NOT SPEAK. An interpreter accompanies me to calm hostility and illuminate issues of incarceration.

"Portrait of the Artist as Political Prisoner" makes random appearances in random locations. So far, there have been appearances around Minnesota, New York City, and Chicago.

Billy X Curmano is a long time VVAW member and creator of Oxy the wise bomb. He is known for extended performances like a 3-day live burial, 2,367.4-mile Mississippi swim and 40-day desert fast all with serious environmental and social justice underpinnings tempered by irony and satire. An amused Journalist dubbed him, "The Court Jester of Southeastern Minnesota". He continues to make it so.

VVAW members John Lindquist and Buzz Noyes pull Billy X. in a Milwaukee
Anti-War Demonstration in the 1970's. (Photo by Steve Shapson.)

John Lindquist collecting contributions for Indo China Day from
inside the "Tiger Cage on Wheels" in the 1970's (Photo by Paul Ruez).

Portrait of the Artist as Political Prisoner, Chicago Hilton Hotel Elevator,
Billy X. Curmano, February 2020. (Photo by Margarita Baumann.)

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