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Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara named an ‘icon’ of 2021 by Time magazine

The Cuban artist and activist is joined on the publication’s list of 100 Most Influential People by Barbara Kruger and Mark Bradford

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara Photo: Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

Time magazine has released a list of the 100 Most Influential People in 2021, and several artists are among them, including the Cuban artist and free speech advocate Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who is given “Icon” status. In a short tribute written by fellow political activist and artist Ai Weiwei, Alcántara is described as “a symbol of and a leader within Cuba’s San Isidro movement, an influential group of artists and intellectuals who demanded greater freedoms as antigovernment protests spread across the country this summer.”

“Although he has since been imprisoned, his life, behavior and expression as a whole are so powerful that they can resist the aesthetic and ethical degeneration of authoritarianism,” Ai says. “Art needs courage, which he has repeatedly demonstrated. Its aesthetics need a solid philosophical background and a strong sense of ethics—this, too, he has shown. It is through such struggles for free expression that art transcends the condition of banality and mediocracy.”

Other artists on the list include Barbara Kruger, who the art critic Hal Foster says “has produced the most trenchant examples of feminist art, superimposing witty texts on purloined images, hoisting the everyday assumptions of patriarchy and plutocracy on their own petards” for more than four decades. “Always alert to questions of audience and venue, Kruger forever seeks new ways to intervene in the public sphere, drawing political debate into artistic practice and vice versa,” he adds.

Mark Bradford’s “awe-inspiring talent is an extension of the warm, caring person that he is”, writes the lawyer and academic Anita Hill. “Through abstract art, Mark has mapped out devastation that crises, including the AIDS epidemic, Hurricane Katrina and the global housing-market collapse, have caused marginalized communities and the people who live in them. He is purposeful in how he dissects racism, homophobia, sexism and poverty.”

Along with politicians, scientists and business leaders, the list features cultural figures from the fields of music, film and design, such as Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, singers Dolly Parton, Britney Spears, and Billie Eilish, fashion designer Aurora James, and producers Timbaland and Swizz Beatz.