Havana mother embroidering portraits of the Five
By Conchy Perez-Fernandez
Feb 16 , 2007
Reprinted from Granma Internacional
ONE day I passed by her house and I noticed that she wasn’t sitting in her usual place in the doorway. For a long time now, Margarita has been an attraction for passers-by... perhaps she never even noticed her popularity. Absorbed in her embroidery and without specifically deciding to do so she would show, to whoever was interested, her magical creations: butterflies, flowers, doves, Cuban flags...
I asked and found out she was busy with something bigger, but they didn’t give me any more details.
Margarita Sánchez Benítez is someone who loves the manual arts. She began, self-taught, more than two decades ago, trying to copy the stitches of a pretty tapestry that her sister had given her.
She used to combine her work as a machine operator in an eyeglass-frame factory and her housework with her embroidery hobby. She couldn’t sleep without advancing a little on her project: that piece of cloth that was taking on form and color.
At the age of 35, she had to retire for medical reasons. An auto accident had left her with motor function difficulties, and now she uses a forearm crutch for walking.
She admitted to Granma International that at first, she felt like the disability had ended her life, but little by little, she began to recover, and from then on dedicated herself entirely to designing and embroidering her pieces. And her devotion grew so much that every member of her household — her daughters, sister and even her son-in-law — learned techniques like cross-stitching. She has participated in numerous collective exhibitions and her embroidery has won her several awards.
“I didn’t believe in what they said about artists having muses for inspiration, but one afternoon, deep into my work, one of them visited me. And that illumination became my main dream.”
From that moment, she set herself to staying informed about everything published about the Cuban Five, the anti-terrorists unjustly locked up in U.S. prisons.
“I wanted to find a way to support the international campaign for the return of René González, Ramón Labañino, Tony Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández and Fernando González. I wanted to express my solidarity with them and their families. So, I decided to embroider their portraits, and that is how I joined the fight against injustice. My feelings as a mother and grandmother made my dream become a reality.”
With a minimum amount of materials, she undertook her project: jute, different colors of yarn and the usual needle. The work required all of her patience and concentration. She put every effort into imagining the faces of the Five on cloth, both individually and together.
Her plans include displaying her collection at the exhibition room of the Rubén Martínez Villena Library in the capital’s historic quarter, or in the Teodoro Ramos Blanco Art Gallery in the Havana neighborhood of Cerro, where she has lived for 45 years.
Before leaving, I asked about the composition and colors that she used for her embroidery, which reproduces one of the collective photographs of the Five.
“As a symbol, I used the Cuban flag to emphasize loyalty, commitment and courage. The colors, of course, are those of the national emblem, plus black and a range of browns. For me, the main thing is the background, in a shade of green, the color of hope, which ratifies that justice will be done and they will come home.”