Art censorship has been present for a while now. Beginning with The Last Judgment by Michelangelo and The Origin of The World by Gustave Courbet, and extending all the way to more recent acts of censorship, as seen in the case of Ai Wei Wei’s Sunflower Seeds, Pussy Riot’s performance Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away! and Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B. The case of artistic limitations is especially visible in the performance art which developed reputation for being very powerful and provocative method of transferring messages to its audience. Since we are promoting the idea of free artistic expression, and in the light of recent event, Widewalls artist of the week is Tania Bruguera, Cuban born installation and performance artist. Bruguera's work pivots around issues of power and control, and several of her works interrogate and re-present events in Cuban history. It is not a big surprise that she was detained on multiple occasions and labeled as a usurper, since Cuban Government is not famous for being an advocate of freedom of speech. The penultimate time when she got arrested was in December 2014 when she tried to restage her Tatlin’s Whisper #6 performance from 2009 in which she invited passersby to speak into the microphone for one minute free of censorship. Tania Bruguera was detained on the basis of fostering public disturbance. In April 2015, few months after her release, her passport was confiscated and she was facing criminal charges. To support the artist and the freedom of artistic expression guaranteed by the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a protest was staged in Times Square. On May 24th she was arrested again for starting her 100-hour long reading-performance.
Originally, Bruguera was scheduled for Havana Biennale only to be removed later from the list of participating artists. The organizers of Havana Biennale probably gave in under the pressure of the Cuban authorities since Bruguera is a state-sanctioned artist. On May 22nd, Tania Bruguera started her 100-hour long reading-performance, but she did not had the time to finish it since she was detained on May 24th. The performance was not part of the Biennial, but took place at the same time, in the same city. Bruguera was reading in front of her house Hannah Arendt’s famous book The Origins of Totalitarianism, giving a comment on censorship in the Communist Cuba and high-handedness of Cuban officials. Incidentally, when the reading-performance started, the local Public Works department began working across Bruguera’s home, not allowing people to participate in her performance. She was soon taken into custody, not being able to finish what she intended. What is left of Bruguera’s performance in front of her house is a trench, practically meaningful, but symbolically charged. The trench represents a gap between the common people of Cuba and their Government. It stands for fallacious methods used to solve problems of the common people, constantly digging up moats, creating barriers and distancing from the burning issues. This ephemeral intervention in front of Tania Burguera’s house was definitely not the outcome she had on her mind, but can you think of a better end?
Tania Bruguera’s work is based on empathy, on a will to make radical changes in the social order. She is an advocate of the equality on every thinkable level. In 2011, Bruguera began working on Immigrant Movement International, a multi-part artwork expected to continue through 2015. Bruguera began in 2011 by spending a year living in a small apartment in Corona, Queens, with five illegal immigrants and their children. She was interested in experiencing some problems illegal immigrants encountered trying to survive on low pay and without health insurance. Bruguera lives and works between Chicago and Havana. She is the founder and director of Arte de Conducta (behavior art), the first performance studies program in Latin America, which is hosted by Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana.
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