Since April 29th, activists and community members have spent one day each in a makeshift prison cell to call attention to the unjust incarceration of Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera. Organized by the National Boricua Human Rights Network (NBHRN), Batey Urbano and Latin@ Coalition, the “31 Days for 31 Years” exhibit features 31 supporters spending 24 hours each in a 6-foot by 6-foot cell with a guard, mimicking the life López Rivera has lived for the last 31 years.
López Rivera, an activist in the Puerto Rican independence movement, was sentenced to 70 years for seditious conspiracy and minor arms charges–but was never convicted of causing harm to anyone. Of the 31 years he has spent in prison, 12 have been in total isolation. Many religious and community leaders, senators, and representatives have called for the release of the decorated Vietnam veteran, artist, and grandfather.
“Prisoners” in the exhibit have included teachers, students, and internationally acclaimed artist Antonio Martorell, a versatile Puerto Rican artist and published author who has exhibited his work across Latin America, the United States, and Europe. Currently an artist-in-residence at Northwestern University, Martorell has had previous residencies at Harvard and the University of Puerto Rico.
As part of the exhibit, Oscar’s paintings are on display as well as posters and literature from the 30-year campaign to free Puerto Rican political prisoners. Visitors can also read Oscar’s letters to his supporters and write letters to him. A 31-second video of each “prisoner’s” reflection is posted here.
The exhibit will end with a major event on Tuesday, May 29, the day López Rivera was arrested in 1981. The exhibit takes place at Batey Urbano, 2620 West Division St. Chicago, IL 60622.