As a child living what he thought to be a happy life in Cuba, Edel Rodriguez was told one day by his parents that they were going to visit some family. That night he was bustled onto a boat bound for Amerca in what turned out to be the Mariel Boat Lift. It was 1980 and Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, had ruled that anybody who could find the means to move to America could do so after 10,000 people had previously tried to find asylum there. Between April and October that year, approximately 125,000 Cubans found their way to a new life in America.
Judging by the multiple interviews and podcasts I’ve read about Edel, he left behind a land contained by a brutal dictatorship but took with him a deeply ingrained sense of injustice that comes from having to leave your homeland because of the brutality of others. That sense of injustice that has clearly driven his work that has now catapulted Edel to global fame in recent times. Of course, we now have similar themes developing across the globe, particularly in America: An immigrant crisis and a tyrannical leader that at times has left many of us wondering what’s next in the reality TV show surrounding the Oval Office.
“I know what I’m talking about. No one can come to me and say, what do you know about dictatorships. It’s affected my entire life. We had to leave our homeland because of the dictatorship. I don’t want to have to leave another country. I’m fighting because I don’t want to have to leave here.” – Edel Rodriquez, speaking to Co.Design
Throughout all of this, Edel’s work has powerfully said it like it is. As Trump’s behaviour has become more grotesque and anti-human, Edel has used the platform given to him by Time Magazine and Der Speigel (amongst others) to capture that grotesqueness in a startling way. As the world has become increasing de-sensitised to the outbursts and rashness of The Orange One, Edel as managed to focus on what it is. Unacceptable. He’s been described as the “the preeminent illustrator of the Trump era” by Fast Company. Fellow illustrator, James Victore said “he is the most dangerous artist in the world right now” and his work has also become the expansive, multi-media backdrop for the current U2 world tour.
— TIME (@TIME) October 13, 2016
There are lots to admire about his work but one action sticks out most for me. When it became clear that what he was doing was resonating with the people looking to protest against Trump, he didn’t try to cash in on this. Instead, he made the generous move of offering it up to anyone who wanted to use it through Creative Commons. He even encouraged others to recreate and paint their own versions of his work to take to the many protest marches playing out across the world. Subsequently, he made it work that truly matters.