In support of Cuban-born New York-based artist Tania Bruguera, the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College has mounted (February 12 through March 22, 2015) the artist’s installation/performance piece Tatlin’s Whisper, a work that promotes freedom of expression and encourages citizens to take part in the political process.
According to The New York Times, Bruguera was detained in Cuba, along with other artists and journalists, after attempting to stage an open-mike performance in Havana’s Revolution Square on December 30. Bruguera said she wanted to test Cuba’s tolerance of criticism now that relations between the United States and Cuba are to be normalized. The artist, who has since been arrested and released twice, has had her passport confiscated and says that authorities offered to return it if she promised not to return to Cuba. Bruguera was the recipient of the Museum’s 2010 Roy R. Neuberger Exhibition Prize, awarded to an emerging artist for an early career survey and monographic catalogue.
“As an academic institution, the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College supports the work of Tania Bruguera, an artist currently under siege by a repressive government,” said Tracy Fitzpatrick, the museum’s director. “As we deem unfettered artistic self-expression and the free exchange of ideas, without fear of retribution, so critical, we are putting on view Tatlin’s Whisper as a reminder of this artist’s message and courage.”
In an announcement posted on Facebook at the end of December by her sister, Bruguera commented: “I’d like to I propose that Cubans take to the streets wherever they may be to celebrate, not the end of a blockade/embargo, but the beginning of our civil rights. Let’s make sure it’s the Cuban people who will benefit from this new historic moment. Our homeland is what hurts us.”
In her interdisciplinary work, Ms. Bruguera often focuses on the relationship among art, politics, and life, and explores such urgent issues as exile, displacement, self-expression, and freedom of speech. “I have the idea that art has to be completely linked with life – and not a fiction or a virtual reality, but as alive as possible,” she said at the Neuberger Museum in 2010. “My art has to have a real function ... to help other people to reflect and improve...”
In Tatlin’s Whisper #6, 2009 created for the 10th Havana Biennial (and re-created at the Neuberger Museum in 2010), Bruguera constructed a raised podium and invited audience members to step up to the microphone for one minute each and exercise their freedom of speech. During the performance, each speaker was flanked by two individuals dressed in military fatigues who placed a white dove on his or her shoulder, evoking the moment in 1959 when a dove alighted on Fidel Castro during a speech. By providing a public platform for the audience to speak out against censorship, to call for liberty and democracy, or to state whatever was on their mind, the artist tested the limits of acceptable behavior under a totalitarian regime. This tapped into the deep emotions of a country that has repressed free speech for over fifty years and where the consequences of self-expression can be grave.
Helaine Posner, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the Neuberger Museum of Art observed: “Throughout her work, Bruguera uses her Cuban experience of cultural displacement and marginality as a prism through which to examine the mainstream and the individual’s often-difficult relationship to power. For Bruguera, art serves as testimony, social commitment, and emotional experience, and is, foremost, ethical at its core.”
Ms. Bruguera has been an assistant professor at the University of Chicago and was founder and director of Cátedra Arte de Conducta from 2003-2009, the first performance studies program in Latin America, located in Havana. Her work has been presented internationally at Documenta 11, Kassel, Germany; three Venice Biennales; and the Tate Modern, London; and included in exhibitions at The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College; and the Kunsthalle, Vienna. Her current project is Immigrant Movement International (2010-15) whose mission is to help define the immigrant as a new global citizen in a post-national world, and to test the concept of arte útil or “useful art” in which artists actively merge art with society’s urgent social, political, and scientific issues.