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Tania Bruguera, the Cuban artist who won’t be silenced

Tania , the Cuban artist who won’t be silenced
Invited to London by Frieze, the activist-artist explains why she is
determined to return to Havana—if she’s allowed
by LAURIE ROJAS | 13 October 2015

The Cuban artist-activist Tania Bruguera, who is due to give a talk in
London tomorrow at the invitation of Frieze, tells us that she is
determined to return to Havana despite her eight-month-long ordeal
earlier this year. After she was detained by the Cuban authorities and
had her passport confiscated, Bruguera suffered harassment, surveillance
and physical abuse. Her “crime” was proposing to restage Tatlin’s
Whisper #6, a performance piece about free speech, in Havana’s
Revolution Square. “Political artists have to go to the places where we
are most useful,” she tells us. “In Cuba, I felt like a useful artist.
Maybe [it] isn’t the easiest place to be, or the most politically
correct place for my career, but that is where I feel I have to be at
this moment.”

Bruguera’s return to Cuba could be difficult—or impossible. Before she
left, the authorities handed her a document that permitted her to
return, but officials warned the artist: “If we don’t want you to, you
will never enter [Cuba] again.”

Because of this year’s “life-changing experience”, Bruguera believes now
more than ever in the potential of socially engaged art, or arte útil
(useful art), the subject of her talk at Frieze. Her first work since
leaving Cuba took place in Toronto a fortnight ago. Untitled
(Referendum) addressed one of the world’s burning questions. “The
problem of the refugees [and] of immigrants is the number one issue to
resolve,” Bruguera says. The result of her “referendum” was surprisingly
close: 2,667 were in favour of opening national borders, while 2,686
voted against.

Bruguera believes that refugees and migrants must be empowered to
rebuild their lives. By giving them political rights, she says,
governments grant them “the possibility of changing their own situation
without depending on other people”. In July, Bruguera was appointed the
artist-in-residence at New York’s Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
She plans to develop ways to encourage undocumented residents to
register for IDNYC, the city’s identification-card programme, so that
they can access some public services.

Bruguera has also gone back to —to Yale, no less. “It is the
best medicine after everything that has happened, because it is an
environment where everything is being processed intellectually, where
the most complicated issues in the world are seen objectively,” she
says. She has time to think, work and take classes, including one called
History of the Present, in which students see if they can change
historical events through simulations. “It’s been a revelation. One can
see ways in which art could change the outcome of a situation,” she says.

Bruguera plans to make the Hannah Arendt Institute for Artivism, which
she launched in May, her main focus. The pedagogical project “is not an
artwork” and will be “very complicated and expensive”, she says. Her
“first action” for the institute was a 100-hour-long reading of Arendt’s
1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism. “I think we are living in an
age of a global totalitarianism; not just one in Cuba, but a
totalitarianism that is all-encompassing, that even takes hope and
rights away from people,” she says.

Source: Tania Bruguera, the Cuban artist who won’t be silenced –

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