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Is It Art or Cruelty to Animals?

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Giullermo Varga "Habacuc" is a Costa Rican "political" artist who likes to shock. He has been acclaimed for his revolutionary outlook on the political situation in Costa Rica. In other words, this is one sick individual who would just as soon pee on a Bible, call it art, apply for an Endowment of the Arts grant, then scream and yell censorship when someone complained.

Last December he dumped tomatoes all over a gallery floor and subjected the President of El Salvador to walk through the mess. He was acclaimed for his vision. In August, when "Habacuc" chained a dog to a corner of a gallery and let it starve to death and called it "art," no one said a word.

Remember the stories about New York City when crime was rampant and people could be stabbed to death on a busy street and no one would say a word? Evidently, in Managua, Nicaragua, an abjectly "sick" artist can trap a starving dog, tie it to a gallery wall, call it art, and people will simply walk through the gallery, ooh and ahh over the artist, and let the dog starve to death.

There are several versions of the story floating around cyberspace. According to “Habacuc,” the dog was quite ill and dying. He paid five children to help him trap the dog.

A witness to the whole incident wrote, “I knew the dog died on the following day from lack of food. During the inauguration, I knew that the dog was persecuted in the evening between the houses of aluminum and cardboard in a district of Managua. 5 children who helped to capture the dog received 10 bonds of córdobas for their assistance. During the exhibition some people requested the freedom of the small dog, which the artist refused. The name of the dog was Natividad, and I let him die of hunger in the sight of everyone, as if the death of a poor dog was a shameless media show in which nobody does anything but to applaud or to watch disturbed. In the place that the dog was exposed remain a metal cable and a cord. The dog was extremely ill and did not want to eat, so in natural surroundings it would have died anyway; thus they are all poor dogs: sooner or later they die or are killed….”

There are truly disturbing photos from the gallery where the dog was starved to death.

Cultural, or Cruelty to Animals?

Was the artist trying to make a political statement without care for the animal? “Habacuc” captured the dog in the poor section of Managua and then chained it to the wall of the gallery. It has been confirmed with the Nación Marta Leonor González, publisher of the cultural supplement of the Press in Nicaragua that the dog died after a day in the expose. The artist also refused to say if he fed the animal or not.

Included in the “exhibition” was the phrase, written in dog food, “Eres que lees” (You are what you read). The Sandinista Hymn was played in the background, with photos of a censer where 175 stones of crack cocaine and an ounce of marijuana were burned. “Habacuc” said his work was a tribute to Natividad Canda, a Nicaraguan who died after being attacked by two rottweilers in a factory in Carthage. He then said,  “I reserve (the right) to say if it is certain or not that the dog died. The important thing for me was the hypocrisy of people: an animal like this one becomes center of attention when I put it in a white place where people are going to see art, but not when it would have died in the street of hunger….”

“Habacus” said it was the same with Natividad Canda. People sympathized with him after he was “eaten by dogs.”

Natividad Canda

According to the Tico Times, the incident took place in early November, 2005. “..dead after being attacked by two Rottweiller (sic) guard dogs in the hours before dawn yesterday. The attack – which was partially caught on tape by a local TV news team – took place on private property. …The man, identified by police as 24-year old Nicaraguan immigrant Natividad Canda Mayrena, died as he was brought to the Max Peralta Hospital in Cartago, east of San José, due to blood loss, …Footage of the attack broadcast on Channel 7 TV News showed two large Rottweilers (sic) alternately biting and pulling the immobile body of the victim, as firefighters attempted to separate the animals from the victim by spraying them and the victim with a fire hose. Though a police vehicle is visible, no officers are seen attempting to intervene. Police officials said they could not fire upon the animals because they feared hitting the victim, though on multiple occasions the news footage shows the animals leaving the body and walking a few feet away….”

The Political Artist

“Habacus” is an award winning Costa Rican artist who specializes on the bazaar political. In the December 2006 show in Costa Rica, he received quite a bit of acclaim for his venture into commentary on the social and the political. He won honorable mention in an important show when he “spread a red carpet of tomatoes” in places where dignitaries and guest speakers were required to walk to get to the stage and podium to announce the prizes. According to the artist, the red carpet was intended as an “interpretation of the roles of power and authority.” He also showed a video entitled Policeman Intervening in Artwork and the Abuse of Power.

Giullermo Varga “Habacus” is in line to represent Costa Rica in the Central American Biennials in Honduras next year. A group of bloggers from Costa Rica and animal rights activists, along with animal lovers throughout the world, are now in the process of circulating a petition to prevent “Habacus” from being allowed to enter the event.

Naturally, there are cries of censorship. 

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About SJ Reidhead

  • TJV

    I’ll keep it brief. This man is sick and what he did is NOT art…it’s blatant cruelty and he should be punished. What if he had chained a child in such a way. Would it be art then? Wake up, people! It won’t be long before this man takes out his sick, demented persona out on humans.

  • zenpilgrim

    I guess his comment, “The important thing for me was the hypocrisy of people: an animal like this one becomes center of attention when I put it in a white place where people are going to see art, but not when it would have died in the street of hunger” is lost on most. I have been in Managua and he is correct, most dogs roam the streets, and are starving. No one in our part of the world seems to care until an artist has the nerve to shove the problem in our face, and then we get pissed off at the messenger, not the problem itself.

    For those of you who want to string Habacus up, I suggest you first get out of your comfortable, “first world” homes, go to Managua and work on the plight of the aniamls you love so much, try to keep them from starving to death. And while you are there, visit the barrios and the city dump, see the people who live like those dogs you care so much about, and maybe you’ll feel called to try and help them as well.

  • Chris Beaumont

    Hey, maybe he should shove the plight of the people in our face by chaining a starving child to the wall.

    Cruelty is cruelty. This is NOT art. Neither is that stupidity with the tomatoes.

  • Catgrrl63

    You don’t have to travel to Managua to find sick, starving, and neglected animals–we have plenty of them right here in the U.S. of A. And some of us ARE doing something about it, instead of simply looking on and saying, “Isn’t that terrible? Somebody should DO something about that.” That somebody is YOU.

  • Monica S

    What should perhaps be most shocking about all of this is that this type of suffering and death happens everyday in countless backyards across the U.S.

    In the vast majority of places, it is legal – even considered acceptable – to chain a dog by its neck for its life: a life of agony and frustration for these social, intelligent animals. Left to pace the same patch of dirt and feces for years on end, many strangle themselves on their tethers, die of thirst or starvation because they can’t reach overturned food bowls (or their owners forget about the dogs, who become “part of the scenery”) and otherwise suffer terribly in their solitary confinement, exposed to all sorts of weather, etc.

    The stories are more horrific than this one. We are working to change minds and laws. Learn more at

  • 3 Doggies Mom

    There is a special place in hell for Him…May he REAP with pleasure…..burn like ribs….toast like bread

  • Monica S

    What is most shocking about this type of death is that it happens every day in countless backyards all over the U.S. In most places it is legal – even sometimes considered perfectly acceptable – to chain a dog by its neck 24/7. Tens of thousands of dogs pace the same patch of dirt and feces for years on end, baking in the heat, freezing in the winter, and dying from exposure, starvation, dehydration, etc. Because chained dogs are usually neglected and rarely socialized, they just sit there and suffer and act like the neurotic, aggressive “lawn ornaments” their owners want them to be. We are working to change laws and minds. Learn more at

  • alessandro

    I don’t know what the line of demarcation is between art, politics and tastelessness. I can only go with instinct and my gut tells me this is not art.

    The Canadian government once gave a grant (I forget the amount but it was sizable and funded by the taxpayer)to an artist to make ‘art” out of shit. Literally.

    Artists need to test the waters and push the envelope. Sometimes they go over board and I think they have here. I see little value in this.

    I can’t picture sublime artists like Rafael, Michaelangelo or Van Gogh needing to do this.

    I could be wrong. Just my take.

  • alessandro

    More importantly, I should have mentioned above also about art imitating life and vice versa as well. It seems that if anything, this guy is trying to let life direct the art. Or let art conceive through life.

    Whatever. Enough of me.

  • carlos

    God! The flees really stick to the skinniest dog…this happened in COSTA RICA NOT NICARAGUA. It just sounds more normal to say it was in Managua than in Eco-friendly Costa Rica. Well, wrong. Canda is the Nicaraguan guy that was killed by the dogs in Costa Rica. And the “artist” in from Costa Rica and did that horrible thing in Costa Rica. Mr. Journalist…get your story right, we have enough image problems as it is.

  • SJ Reidhead


    The artist is from Costa Rica and he does do “artistic” political commentary re: Costa Rica. If you read the article you will see the entire incident happened in Managua and I took great pains to say that.

    SJ Reidhead

  • donna tabor

    Some of us expats in Granada, Nicaragua, are walking our talk. We’ve started a spay and neuter clinic to try to curg the stray dog and feral cat population in our community. We feed them…try to find homes for them….care for them while they live on the street. We also treat working horses as well.

    We are now staffed by volunteers, both ex pats and Nicaraguans, who care about the plight of these homeless animals. It is gratifying that many in the community are opening their eyes and their hearts to a sad situation.

    It’s difficult for any of us to imagine that someone would choose to chase down a frightened street dog, chain it, watch it starve to death when giving it food and water could have been a humane alternative. But of course there woulnd’t have been any spotlight on an egocentric artist who shells out a bag of Alpo…..