Independent Artists and Galleries Join a Biennial Outside Official Institutions

The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is one of the promoters of this independent artistic initiative. (Adonis Milan) (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 February 2018 — The organizers of the Havana #00 Biennial, an independent event whose celebration is scheduled from May 5-15, have won the support of several artists and independent spaces on the island, according to Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of the promoters of the initiative, speaking to 14ymedio.

Among the artists who have confirmed their participation in the event are Lázaro Saavedra, winner of the 2014 National Plastic Arts Prize, and the well-known Tania Bruguera, founder of the Hannah Arendt International Institute of Artivism Hanna Arendt (INSTAR).

Also planning to participate are independent exhibition spaces and artistic projects such as Aglutinador, managed by Sandra Ceballos, and the Riera Studio of Samuel Riera. The list is completed by the independent gallery El Oficio, together with the studios Yo Soy El Que Soy and Coco Solo Social Club.

The #00 Biennal is being convened by the Museum of Politically Uncomfortable Art (MAPI), a section of the Dissidents Museum located in Old Havana.

Otero Alcántara explains that within the 10-day program they plan to stage activities in different areas of the city. In each space they plan to fuse the visual arts with other cultural manifestations.

“One day is dedicated to Alamar with the Omni-Zona-Franca project and in the municipality of Habana del Este we are going to call a festival of sand sculptures, there will be performances, graffiti and concerts at night,” he says.

Another day of the independent event will take place in Guanabacoa, around in the studio of David de Omni, an experimental musician who works in rap and reggae, but also poetry.

Artists from Spain, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, the United States, Romania and several countries in the African continent have also confirmed their participation, according to Otero Alcántara, who explains that some still prefer to maintain their support anonymously to avoid reprisals from the authorities, among which would be preventing them from entering the country.

Others, such as the Mexican Yvelin Buenrostro and the Spaniards Antonio Mas and Alicia Torres, have already decided to make their presence public, including the Cubans Jose Luis Marrero, Yuri Obregon, Los Serones, Adonis Milan, Amaury Pacheco, Iris Ruiz, Yasser Castellanos, Sam 33, 2 + 2 = 5, Happy Zombie, Yoanny Aldaya, Italo Expósito and José Ernesto Alonso.

Since this alternative biennial was initially announced, organizers explained that it was conceived “before the decision of the Ministry of Culture, the National Council of Plastic Arts and the Wilfredo Lam Center to postpone the celebration of the XIII Biennial of Havana until 2019, as a consequence of the damages caused by Hurricane Irma. The official biennial was originally scheduled from October 5 to November 5, 2018.”

To finance the independent event, its developers have started a Crowdfunding campaign through which they hope to obtain the $20,000 that they have set as budget to move the project forward.

With this arts festival they seek to “support the development of Cuban culture at a time when the country is experiencing a strong crisis of faith, an increase in the banality and despair.” The managers of the initiative consider it “essential not to delay the Biennial event and to implement if with the minimum resources.”

After announcing the schedule of the event, the Association of Artists of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) circulated an email warning that “unscrupulous people” were “trying to organize provocations” to divide the artistic guild.

The last edition of the Havana Biennial was held between May and June 2015. In its three decades of life, the artistic event has gone through different stages where creative effervescence prevailed over the harmful effects of economic crisis and censorship.


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Cuban Regime Frees Activist Lia Villares

The activist Lia Villares. (FACEBOOK / MARTÍ NEWS)

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Havana, 23 December 2017 — Activist  Lia Villares was released this Friday morning after being detained since Wednesday, activist Rosa María Payá Acevedo said in her Twitter account.

Villares, in addition, was fined 500 pesos by the authorities, according to Martí Noticias.

During the arrest, “her interrogators told her that she had committed crimes, and in order to prove it to her they showed her a photograph that she had taken some time ago with two policemen. In the photo she appears with a fan with the logo of the CubaDecides opposition initiative” directed by Payá Acevedo, according to the Miami media. continue reading

In the cell where she was detained, the activist wrote with a stone on the wall “Art Yes, Censorship No. I am free.”

“They tell me that this is a damage to property and carries a fine of 500 pesos,” she explained.

Villares  was arrested Wednesday along with other artists when they tried to attend the staging of the play Psychosis.

Among those arrested and then released were Tania Bruguera, actress Iris Ruiz (protagonist of the monologue that was to be performed), Adonis Milán (director of the play), poet Amauri Pacheco, art historian Yanelys Nuñez, another person identified as José Ernesto Alonso and the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.

The plot of the piece revolves around a person enclosed in a very small space showing obvious signs of madness who wants to leave the place.

The version that was presented was inspired by the events of 2010 at the Psychiatric Hospital of Havana, popularly known as Mazorra, where  26 patients died of hunger and cold. In the monologue direct allusions were to be made to Raúl Castro and terms such as “dictatorship” were used.

The independent gallery El Círculo is subject to constant repression by the regime. State Security also closed this independent space in April to prevent the presentation of the documentary Nadie, by Miguel Coyula, which deals with the life of the poet Rafael Alcides.

Likewise, the political police set up another operation last November to prevent public attendance at the work “The Enemies of the People”  directed by the documentary filmmaker Miguel Coyula, which fictionalized the final minutes of Fidel Castro.

Havana Biennial Postponed to 2019 Because of “Serious Damages” from Hurricane Irma

An art installation on the Malecon during the 12th Havana Biennial (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 September 2019 – The Promotion Division of Cuba’s National Council of the Arts and the Wifredo Lam Center for Contemporary Art announced that the 13th Havana Biennial, scheduled to be held next year, will be postponed until 2019.

A press release on the Council’s website it explains that due “the extremely serious damages caused by Hurricane Irma on the country’s system of cultural institutions,” they have “rescheduled several events” planned for the country.

The announcement does not give an exact date for the more important visual arts event in the country, although it says that “detailed information” is forthcoming.

The last edition of the Biennial was held between May and June of 2015, under the theme “Between The Idea And The Experience,” focused on a search for an artistic perspective beyond the museums and galleries.

Participating in the last Biennial were more than 120 guest artists, individuals and collectives who took advantage of their own spaces to install their works. The exhibition also included group projects conceived as an “artistic quarry” because they offered space for recently graduated young artists.

Over its 30 years, the Biennial has passed through different moments, some marked by artistic effervescence and others by apathy, affected by the economic crisis and the censorship of uncomfortable artists.

In its most recent edition the artist Tania Bruguera, who did not have an official invitation, presented a session of more than 100 hours of consecutive reading, analysis and discussion of Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” at the independent International Institute of Artivism, which took the name of the famous German philosopher.

Two officials from State Security visited Bruguera to dissuade her from continuing her artistic action and blocking several activists from being able to access the site where she performed the reading.

Cuban Police Detain Activists For Second Consecutive Day / 14ymedio

Eliécer Avila together with young people from the Somos+ movement (Archive Photo)

14ymedio, Havana, 12 January 2017 — Police maintained a strong operation Thursday around the headquarters of the 1010 Academy in the neighborhood of Cerro, in Havana. Activists Joanna Columbié and Georlis Olazabal were arrested while trying to access the site to participate in a conference on constitutional law, said Eliécer Ávila, president of the independent Somos+ (We Are More) movement.

“Since early this morning they have the block surrounded and do not let anyone in or out of the house,” said Avila. “We had organized a talk with the attorney Wilfredo Vallin of the Cuban Law Associatio, but the police did not allow him to leave his home,” in La Vibora, he told 14ymedio .

Meanwhile, scientist Oscar Casanella denounced the arrest of the artist Tania Bruguera “on leaving Havana” when they were traveling in a vehicle with “two mattresses and rice” for the victims of Hurricane Matthew in the eastern part of the country.

In a telephone call, Casanella said the artist had been taken to the Cotorro police station in Havana. However, the officer of the guard there denied that Bruguera was there. “We do not have any Tanya here, the one we have is a Nancy,” the police officer said through the phone line.

This second consecutive day of arrests against activists takes place a few hours after the replacement of the recently deceased Interior Minister, Carlos Fernández Gondín, by Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla.

For the whole of 2016, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented a total of 9,940 arbitrary arrests. A figure that “puts the Government of Cuba in first place in all of Latin America,” said the report of the independent organization.

Patria y Libertad: Homeland and Freedom / 14ymedio, Tania Bruguera

One of the events in Havana in the 9-day mourning period for Fidel Castro (EFE)
One of the events in Havana in the 9-day mourning period for Fidel Castro (EFE)

14ymedio, Tania Bruguera, Havana, 1 December 2016 — Today in Cuba, we start a new phase, a phase that requires us to transition (shift) from an anecdote to historic data, from rumor to research, from passion to facts from what was symbolically assumed to what was actually done.

Time has come for us to ask for that archives be opened, to know how many truths  were manufactured and  to what extent victories  were achieved, to know with certainty how many  Cubans have  died around the world, to understand what social progress we have made and  to learn which agreements the government has  made on our behalf.

The Cuban people have the right to know its history, all of it, and be able to draw their own conclusions. continue reading

Today Cubans have stopped being children waiting for orders.

However, refusing to be underestimated requires understanding  other people’s feelings, those that think and  feel differently. It means understanding that we are not always right and  that the goal of discussion  is not to win arguments but to clarify our ideas and send them out for consideration..

We need to stop  thinking that only our feelings  are valid because the project of The Revolution  has  been a different  experience for each and  every one of us, and  since they were experiences, all of them  are valid. There are things  to rescue and  things  to remove. It would be more interesting to see  how people have  dealt  with their experiences, what they have done with them, instead of denying   someone to feel in their own terms.

We need to start  saying  “no” to the things  we don’t like, to the things  that keeps us from feeling clean  and  honest, even  if this means losing a privileged position, because there’s no money,  no professional opportunity, no material comfort  that can  be compared to feeling free, to being  able to speak one´s  mind.

But the life project that we can create from now on is only possible if we allow ourselves to stop  having  double standard ethics, if we stop telling something to some people and then something different to others.

We have  an exceptional moment before us, not to defend a government or a position, but to create all together a vision for Cuba; one that  is not biased to either extreme,  a vision that can be a compilation of all our points  of view.

It is the time to create a new legal infrastructure that includes  respect for different  opinions and  stops political hate forever, that ensures that citizens’ preferences cannot be controlled by the government; that can be a space for fair and inclusive decisions.

It is the time to create a political infrastructure that guarantees that never again  a president can hold all powers. This has happened 3 times  in Cuba  since  1902.  There should never be another president who thinks he knows  better than  anyone, and what is better for us all.

This is the time to create a civic and social  infrastructure that includes everyone, that includes rights for everyone, that includes political dissent as a civic right,  that includes civic literacy.

It is the time to create an emotional infrastructure that nurtures room for mutual understanding, a structure that does not allow anything to horrify or minimize us.

A structure that allows solidarity  and  privacy,  individual rights and  social  rights where  the life we want to have is respected but also represents a common effort; a structure that allows truths  and  claims  from everyone, the majority but also the minority. A place  where  a humanist utopia  exists  but never  again  paranoia among its citizens, where emotions don’t compromise what is fair.

Today, there is a real task for Cubans to complete: to balance what we want to rescue and what we want to change. It is the time to stop whispering our hopes, it is time to stop being  afraid.

The best way to honor  our homeland and ourselves is not being submissive, not being a cynical nation,  never  again  being a nation  with different classes of Cubans, nor a place  from where  to leave,  but a place  where  life is a dignifying act  we are proud of.

Placing love, family and friendship above ideologies is the only way Cuba will be a nation again.

(English version from Tania Bruguera’s own site)

Tania Bruguera Commits To Civic Education Of Cubans / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Tania Bruguera in the fundraising video for the Hanna Arendt International Institute of Artivism
Tania Bruguera in the fundraising video for the Hanna Arendt International Institute of Artivism

Kickstarter campaign will fund “civic and artistic alternative to the emphasis in Cuba on money as the unique salvation to the problems of the country”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 1 April 2016 — When in late 2014 the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera attempted to stage her performance of Tatlin’s Whisper in the Plaza of the Revolution, she felt firsthand the repression and censorship to which all voices who dissent from the government’s cultural guidelines are subjected.

Bruguera, who defines herself as an artivist, has created the Hannah Arendt International Institute of Artivism (INSTAR), with a site in Havana that, in the words of its founder, “will be a civic and artistic alternative to the emphasis in Cuba right now on economic projects, and with money as the unique salvation to the problems of the country.”

[Click here to play video]

The objective of the new campaign is the civic literacy of the citizenry. This is a project that seeks “to work with Cubans, from housewives and professionals to activists and students, so that they can participate in or initiate change in their own communities.” Her inspiration has been the thinking of the German philosopher Hannah Arendt, author of the classic The Origins of Totalitarianism. continue reading

“We are at a moment when the Cuban government is not concerned about preserving the ethic principles and social justice that we seek to defend because there is no national project,” commented the artivist to 14ymedio.

In her opinion, the Cuban government is currently engaged in consolidating their personal economic power, with which they will also guarantee their permanence in political power. Cuba is caught between a civic and an ideological crisis because there is no long-term strategic vision for the country.

According to Bruguera her motivations for creating this campaign are based on the observation of Cuban reality. “We are accepting as normal corruption on the part of institutions and the citizenry. There is a calculated government effort to ensure that citizens do not feel empowered, because they are afraid,” she says.

The institute seeks to place Cuba’s future in the hands of Cubans, affirming that asking for their rights cannot wait until everything is decided and irreversible. “The time to intervene in Cuba’s future is now.”

The use of crowdfunding as a financing mechanism is an important element of the campaign with regards to money, which “is a very sensitive topic for Cuban projects.” This method, according to Bruguera, is democratic, because it forces the project to serve the citizenry and is a real commitment if one truly desires change. In addition, the artist added, INSTAR will be transparent with its accounting, showing where its financing comes from and where it goes, something it is hoped will spread to other civil society groups and to the government “as a part of their own working strategies.”

With seven days to go in the campaign, it has already exceeded its goal of $100,000 from almost 700 donations. The money will be used to purchase the equipment needed to carry out the project in Cuba, as well as to pay artists and fund the necessary logistics.

The citizen education workshops will be developed based on the demands of the participants, who the organization hopes will come from the entire political, social and cultural spectrum of the nation, under “the principles of transparency, respect and equality that govern INSTAR.”

The artivist summarizes the strategy of the institute in three actions: “Longing, Thinking and Acting. We want to convert ideas into civic action.” The desires and complaints of the participants will lead to the discussion of existing alternatives, presented by national and foreign guests, and the most realistic way of implementing them. Finally they will be put into action, “mobilizing and visualizing them with the creativity of the activists and artivists.”

Cuban State Security has begun pressuring those linked to the project. The permits to finished preparing the site that will house the institute took eight months to acquire, and the project manager charged with completing the construction asked them not to call him any more because State Security had “been to see” him. “We know we will be under a great deal of pressure because this project signifies a peaceful solution and achieving a civic education,” comments Bruguera.

Despite government barriers, Bruguera isn’t considering wavering in her intent. “Art committed to social activism is the path we have chosen for INSTAR as a relevant institution in the conquest of Cubans’ civil rights and for its direct impact on everyday life,” she concludes.

Cuban Faces of 2015: Tania Bruguera, Artist / 14ymedio

The artist Tania Bruguera. (14ymedio)
The artist Tania Bruguera. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 December 2015 – Announcing a performance in the Plaza of the Revolution tossed the artist Tania Bruguera into the middle of a hurricane of repression and solidarity. The reprise of Tatlin’s Whisper, this time under the title #YoTambienExijo (I Also Demand), would have brought microphones to the emblematic locale for those who wanted to express themselves during the day on 30 December 2014.

Cuban cultural authorities initially pressured Bruguera to change the location of her artistic action, then rained down threats upon her and finally arrested her. Her passport was confiscated and retained, and for months she suffered several clashes with State Security, in addition to a sequence of interrogations and preparations for an alleged judicial process that never materialized.

Born in 1968, Bruguera defines herself as an artivista (art-activist), and was excluded from the latest edition of the Havana Biennial. Despite all of this she decided to honor Hannah Arendt with more than 100 hours of consecutive reading of her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, and founded at her own home the International Institute of Artivismo, which carries the name of the renowned German philosopher.

In July of 2015, the authorities returned Bruguera’s passport, which enabled her to participate in international events, exhibitions and conferences. In New York City she was awarded a fellowship to the renowned Yale University, and was chosen by People Magazine in Spanish as one of the 50 most influential Latinos in the world.

Tania Bruguera is With Cubans in Costa Rica / 14ymedio

Tania Bruguera, in Costa Rica, with Cubans stranded at the border. (Youtube / screenshot)
Tania Bruguera, in Costa Rica, with Cubans stranded at the border. (Youtube / screenshot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 November 2015 — The artist Tania Bruguera heeded the call of some of the more than 3,000 Cuban migrants who have been stuck for more than ten days ago in the north of Costa Rica after the Government of Nicaragua prevented their continuing their journey to United States.

A group of migrants created a Facebook page called “Let the Cubans Pass” so that “the world will know their names, experiences and professions in order to contradict those who brand Cubans trying to reach the United States as criminals.”

“I want to show my solidarity by being there with them. I have no plan, I am not anybody who is going change any situation. But well, at least to be with them,” said Bruguera in an interview published by the Costa Rican online journal Socialism Today. continue reading

“A mechanism needs to be created for the people to hold the government accountable in a peaceful and legal way, without it being seen as a counterrevolutionary attitude” she stresses.

“I think the government is dedicated to lowering people’s hopes and what we are seeing today is that a year after [the restoration of relations with the US] people do not see a solution to their problems and prefer to sell their homes and leave their families and go to another country to seek their fortune rather than stay in Cuba to see what happens,” she says. “In Cuba there is no economic migration that is not political.”

Bruguera has also been affected by government limitations on movement when, between late December of 2014 and August of this year she was prevented from leaving Cuba. After being held on the island for eight months for organizing a performance in Revolution Square in Havana, the authorities finally returned her passport and she was able to take up a fellowship at Yale University.

The artist has worked previously on the subject of migrants, in particular when she founded the Immigrant Movement International, an art project conceived in 2006 and presented by Creative Time and the Queens Museum of Art. With this initiative she proposed to initiate a socio-political movement, so she spent a year working in the multicultural neighborhood of Corona, Queens in New York City.

Tania Bruguera: “Cuba needs massive civic literacy in the streets” / Diario de Cuba

Tania Bruguera in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana (NPR)

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Joan Antoni Guerrero Vall, 4 October 2015 — After being held in the country for eight months by the regime, in punishment for attempting to bring her performance Tatlin’s Whisper to the Plaza of the Revolution, Tania Bruguera refuses to give in. She recognizes that even when she was put in the cells at Vivac with Cuba’s repressive machinery fuming to put an end to her freedom of expression, she was happy because she felt herself to be free. She acted according to her principles, despite any action the regime took against her.

In a conversation with Diario de Cuba from New York, the artist recounts these days, speaks about the present and future of Cuba, and considers that the Cuban people have a lot to learn: “We need to help people to understand the happiness produced by things you believe in.”

After eight months in Cuba, what are the lessons you take away from everything that happened? 

I’m still processing a lot of things. I learned that the image of the Revolution is one thing and how it is sustained is something else all together. There is an extraordinary dichotomy between the image of the Revolution and living with it. I also learned that the words we use, such as “solidarity” and “camaraderie,” have lost all meaning. The Revolution has used them indiscriminately and they have been emptied of their emotional functionality, in terms of humanism and activism. continue reading

And what meaning have these words taken under the current system?

I think I had the good fortune to understand solidarity and camaraderie: to believe in the truth of your own principles. In Cuba, we spend our lives saying slogans that we repeat and that have no meaning. They are like a rhetorical construction. They are not even constructions to call to action, in fact they don’t want you to really think about them.

What did the attempt to stage Tatlin’s Whisper in the Plaza of the Revolution teach you?

In this work I’ve done nothing more, and it what I am most satisfied with, that it presents a revolutionary ethic and attitude. I have activated all the concepts and slogans to become part of history, the whole idea of having principles, everything they tell us that, in reality, they don’t let us act on.

In this sense I learned that words are not actions. We Cubans have the right to participate in the history of Cuba. It is a right that has been taken by the Government. This learning is a personal process all Cubans pass through.

What brought about the change?

I came to Cuba knowing what freedom is because I live in freedom. At the beginning, when I left Cuba, it was a huge lie. Because on leaving Cuba everything is a lie: you have to lie about your feelings, your ideas, lie about what you really want in life.

To speak the truth in Cuba is dangerous. It cost me great personal labor and great discipline to understand the value of truth, of experiencing saying it. I still have to be careful, although I have spent hears being a person who doesn’t lie and talking to people who don’t lie.

Because of this I stopped talking to State Security agents. I would like it if people in Cuba could experience how good it feels when you are doing things you believe in, being honest, speaking the truth for once in your life.

Was it difficult being in jail?

It was very difficult, but at the same time I had no problem because I had a much stronger sense of happiness because I said what I thought instead of what they tried to make me do. It is a very rare thing. I learned that injustice has a physical manifestation. You feel it in your body. So I believe that the Cuban body is numbed by the injustice it has had to bear for years. The blood is numb, it is something that is passed down from parents to children. Fear in Cuba is in the social DNA and that is what we must eliminate.

And how can that be done?

We have to make people understand the happiness that comes from doing things you believe in. My emotional spectrum is much broader now: I learned things that I still don’t know how to explain.

I learned that the country has to change and that it can’t continue like this. The Cuban government has the custom of projecting Cubans as a happy people. And how do they demonstrate this happiness.  Because there is a lot of sex, beaches and laughter. But this isn’t happiness, without know that one is honest with oneself. This is what is missing in Cuba.

I want to continue working for it. I learned that art can be a part of history and of participating in an event on a higher scale, beyond the exposition. I greatly enjoyed how everything happened.

Has your perception of the country changed? Any disappointments or surprises?

I always tried to understand who benefitted most from what I did. I was under a lot of pressure to speak badly of artists who didn’t support me. If my project is about freedom of expression, I don’t have the right to judge other artists. If I advocated for the coexistence of differences, I can’t judge those who think differently.

I harbor no anger against absolutely anyone, I have no personal problem with any Cuban artist, whatever position they take. I believe this is a very complicated issues, from many points of view, and nor does political art in every country support it.

I also realize that, being in Cuba, there was a lot of underground work, pressuring me to speak ill of the artists.

By whom?

It could be a Government strategy to support them in isolating my community even more. I know that my separation from the artists’ union was orchestrated by State Security. There were people who received visits from State Security. They told them I was working for the CIA and that if they went to the Havana Biennial and someone asked them about my case, they should say they didn’t know anything about what was going on with me.

They told every person a different story. I have faith and I know it will change. I know Cuban artists are going to join the fight for freedom of expression because art is finding personal freedom. Under all the pressure that came from State Security, the curators, the director of the biennial, there were a lot of people who supported me, perhaps not all of them publicly and person a person helps you by offering you their shoulder, they can help you see the light about something that you’re doing that they think you shouldn’t do.

I love artists very much and they sit down to share ideas with me. I know I’m not alone and that the community of artists in Cuba supports and respects me. Everyone has their time. I think that we have to respect the personal process of each person. I don’t think it’s healthy to force anyone to make a decision when they’re not prepared to make it.

Is Tatlin’s Whisper already a closed action? Are you finished with it with your departure from Cuba? Is it possible there will be new attempts and you will continue challenging the authorities of the island from art?

That depends on State Security, not me. For me, Tatlin’s Whisper is a work of art of conduct. The significance fo the work is in how people conduct themselves. The fact that some people were in the Plaza is a part of the work.

The Cuban Government wants to appropriate for itself all authority through State Security. It is what they always do. Many people say I already knew what would happen. What I knew is that it was a historic moment. In those moments things didn’t function in the same way as always, things could change the meaning. People were outside their comfort zone and reacted in unexpected and different ways. I had this element in my favor.

As an artist, the Plaza of the Revolution seems to me to be a place that is exhausted, an ugly place in the sense that its meaning is very closed. I had thought of a Plan B, of doing it in other places. But after everything that happened around asking permission and I saw everything develop all around me, the art work set aside and the entire Cuban system of repression and control of the masses put on full alert. Then the Plaza of the Revolution took on another significance: it is not a people’s place, it is the center of power, the buildings surrounding it are places where they create the strategies of repression. So it was the place to stage the performance. In that moment I thought it was the place I had to do it.

Throughout the months you have been in Cuba the “thaw” process has continued. There is an evolution toward models of authoritarian capitalism. Do you believe the Government will manage to insert itself into the international community with these “particularities”?

The problem we have in Cuba is the arrogance of the people who are in power. They believe they are the only ones who have the answers to what happens in the country and the only ones capable of fixing what is happening. This is the first problem we have in the country.

The second is that we are going through a transition in which the people are not given a chance to participate, they are converted into receptors of orders. It’s like what you would say to a small child, “This is best for you.” Well, maybe not.

In the model they are following in Cuba — capitalism, feudalism, or what they are inventing — they are giving a disproportionate priority to the economy as the solution to the human problems we Cubans are suffering. I have heard many people, in the opposition and others, who agree that private businesses and creating a strong middle class will resolve the problems. I don’t agree with this.

Yes, there should be an economic blossoming, because the people deserve it, but I believe that the middle class, without a civic education, could be as reactionary a caste as the leaders of today’s Cuba are. Why? Because what it happening is that the egotism of those who have power will be spread a little more.

The Cuban people are a traumatized people, abused, they don’t know what they feel because they haven’t escaped from it. The first thing that has to happen is a massive civic literacy program in the streets so that those who know how to read and write learn to understand what they feel and to express themselves. The second is the Constitution: it has to be changed, but by whom. The new Government? A group of intellectuals?

What has to change is the people. I would love to see a system like in Iceland, where the people were directly involved in the changes. I think it is very dangerous to transition from ideology as truth to money as truth. Now the Cuban people deserve explanations, not orders, they deserve the ability to ask questions have the right to get an explanation and to have their doubts about this explanation and to be respectfully responded to.

How do you see Cuba today and the role of self-employment which some consider the germ of other changes?

With everything that is going there, there has been no improvement in democracy in Cuba. The owners of the new businesses are reproducing in the most intense way the social injustices of the Government. There is no protection for workers in private businesses, there is a reproduction of the mistreatment… you have been abused and now it is your turn to abuse.

I don’t know to what extent the middle class has a social and national conscience, or if it is rather a logical response to this spiritual and economic hunger that they have had for 50 years.

Another question is who can start these businesses, people who have family in the Government or family abroad. It is false that businesses in Cuba are free, they are blackmailed politically.

And what does this context portend for the world of art. We recently saw the censorship of The King is Dying

The strategies of artists from the ’90s, speaking their demands obliquely and metaphorically and using displaced geographic examples to make a connection and to speak about their immediate reality are exhausted. Artists have the opportunity to present what is happening but not to question the cause of everything we are experiencing. No one can make a movie that explores the reasons for the problems.

Their treatment of Juan Carlos Cremata was abuse because it would have been enough to censor his work. But I think it is very important to understand why they took away his institutional right to do theater. They have such a huge fear that they are going to lose control in this transition that they can’t stop and they can’t fix. They are doing what they can to maintain control. They are looking for scapegoats so that the rest of the artistic community will get the message. They are afraid.

Do you think there will be obstacles for you to return to Cuba? On your departure you had a visit with an agent in the airport…

I did everything I needed to do so they would let me return to Cuba. It took me a month and a half to get them to give me a letter where it says my case is dismissed. They do everything illegally. Within six months they closed the case because after that they have to ask for special permission from the Ministry of Justice to continue with the investigation. They took it to the limit.

According to all the lawyers I saw, they have not one single reason not to let me enter Cuba. My only passport is Cuban, I have not renounced my residence in Cuba and I have never engaged in illegality. If when I decide to return to Cuba the government of the United States is still negotiating issues of human rights with Havana, I think they will let me enter to demonstrate that I was wrong and that I had an unfounded fear and to show the Americans that they are not so bad.

If they want to know something. if they need to find something out through an interrogation, that is another reason to let me in. When I return I have no intention of speaking to State Security again because on this trip they came to my house trying to change the way I think. I am taking advantage of this interview with Diario de Cuba — because they read it — to tell them that I am not going to speak with them again because they lied to me, they told me they would free El Sexto on 24 August and he is still a prisoner. And I have said that I do not speak with liars.

Another thing that can happen is that if when I return they feel secure and that they have gotten what they want from the United States, they might not let me enter.

Finally, what would be the best actions to advocate for an inclusive and democratic Cuba?

First, a massive civic literacy campaign. People have to learn that they have something to give and that things can change. What has to happen then is that the Government releases all the political prisoners.

We should enter into an absolutely democratic process where people express the vision they have for the country and hold a kind of referendum about where the Cuban people want to go. Of course, all this derives from a constitutional change.

I would also support a Truth Commission, so that people recognize what was done and as a process of social “clean up.” We have to face the difficult things we’ve experiences, but without condemning people, without revenge.

In addition, it would be good the for a few generations no Castro could be in power. I do not want a third Castro in power. Out of decency and respect for the Cuban people, the descendants of the Castro family can help the people, through foundations, but they should not meddle in politics.

Out of respect for the people and because they are not better than anyone.

‘Art With Consequences’, Tania Bruguera’s First Conference Outside Cuba / 14ymedio

The group of Yale World Fellows for 2015, including the artist Tania Bruguera (Top row, 2nd from right). (Yale University)
The group of Yale World Fellows for 2015, including the artist Tania Bruguera (Top row, 2nd from right). (Yale University)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 September 2015 — “When politics meets art the aesthetic defines its relevance, when art meets politics ethics can not be avoided.” So begins the announcement for Tania Bruguera’s presentation this coming September 15 at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie (New York).

Entitled ‘AEST-ethics’: Art with Consequences, it is the first public event featuring the artist outside of Cuba since her recent forced stay in that country, and is part of the Antonio Márquez Lecture Series organized by the university on the occasion of Hispanic Heritage Month.

“Political art is art that has consequences. The ethics, the conduct and the specific political moment are some of the materials that are spokesperson uses today to create an art that works politically,” reads the statement.

Bruguera is currently engaged in an year-long artist-in-residence engagement in New York and is helping that city’s Office of Immigrant Affairs recruit undocumented immigrants for the idNYC Program, which aims to provide identification cards to all residents of the Big Apple.

The artist finally obtained her passport on 11 July, after being detained by the Cuban government last December, when he was arrested before making a performance of political art in Havana, and has since suffered several clashes with State Security.  On June 8 the artist was detained along with 47 Ladies in White at the exit of Santa Rita Church in the Havana municipality of Playa.

A few weeks earlier, during the activities of the Havana Biennial, Bruguera decided to pay tribute to Hannah Arendt with more than 100 consecutive hours of reading, analysis and discussion of the book The Origins of Totalitarianism. The event was hijacked by successive incidents police pressure, a noisy street repair outside the home of the artist, and the subsequent arrest of her and several companions.

The Artist Tania Bruguera Arrives in New York / 14ymedio

The group of Yale World Fellows for 2015, including the artist Tania Bruguera. (Yale University)
The group of Yale World Fellows for 2015, including the artist Tania Bruguera. (Yale University)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 22 August 2015 – In a statement released by #YoTambienExijo (I too demand), it was reported that the artist Tania Bruguera arrived in New York this Friday, after eight months in Cuba. “I just landed at JFK (…) to be a Fellow of the Yale World Fellowship 2015,” a program of the renowned Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, her note said. She was greeted by officials of the university.

As a program fellow, Bruguera will be at Yale University until December of this year. She will have the opportunity to participate in a seminar taught by Yale professors on global issues, exclusively for the fellows, as well as to take classes and give lectures at Yale. continue reading

The Cuban artist announced her departure on the platform #YoTambienExijo, “while in flight through the on-board WiFi network, and not before to avoid encounters with Cuban State Security,” she said in a statement. Bruguera said that before leaving Cuba, in the Havana airport, a State Security official who said his name was “Javier” told her that he “might possibly travel to New York in September.”

On July 10 the Cuban government returned the artist’s passport to her, after having confiscated it on 30 December 2014, when she was arrested before staging a political piece of performance art in Havana.

At that time Bruguera stated that she would not leave Cuba “until I have an official document in my hands that legally assures me that I can reenter [Cuba] without problems,” which they Cuban authorities had promised to give her within the next two weeks.

The artist has been arrested several times in recent months, especially during the marches in support of the Ladies in White outside Santa Rita Church in the Havana municipality of Playa. She was also arrested during the activities of the Havana Biennial, when she decided to hold a tribute to Hannah Arendt with more than 100 consecutive hours of reading, analysis and discussion of the book, The Origins of Totalitarianism.

The event was hijacked by successive police pressure, a noisy street repair outside the home of the artist, and the subsequent arrest of Bruguera and several companions.

Ladies in White March Ends With 120 Arrests / 14ymedio

Act of repudiation against the Ladies in White in the vicinity of Linea Street tunnel last February (14ymedio)
Act of repudiation against the Ladies in White in the vicinity of Linea Street tunnel last February (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 13 July 2015 – A group of 120 activists and Ladies in White was arrested on Sunday during the traditional weekly march. Among those arrested were the opposition leader Jorge Luis Garcia Perez (known as Antunez), who in the days before had called for support for the Ladies in White, the artist Tania Bruguera, and the photographer Claudio Fuentes, who has now been released.

Most of the arrests were concentrated in Havana, near the Church of Santa Rita. In the town of Aguada de Pasajeros, in the province of Cienfuegos, arrests and acts of repudiation were also reported.

During the morning, at least 20 activists and Ladies in White were prevented from reaching the Mass in the parish in the Miramar neighborhood. Others, such as Berta Soler, managed to reach the site and subsequently fell victim to an act of repudiation with posters and shouting.

The independent journalist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo reported on “mobs stationed on two blocks” of the Aguada de Pasajeros parrish, where on June 21 eight Ladies in White were expelled from Mass by the priest.

From the town of Cienfueguero, the activist Tania Echeverria reported “severe beatings of the Ladies in White Olga Ravelo Vega and Diurbis de La Rosa Hernandez.”

Tania Bruguera Now Has Her Passport / 14ymedio


14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 11 July 2015 — The Cuban government finally returned her passport to the artist Tania Bruguera, who can now travel outside the island, she reported this Saturday in a statement on her Facebook site #YoTambiénExijo. The document had been seized last December when she was arrested before staging a performance of political art in Havana.

According to the statement, State Security and a police instructor returned her only passport, a Cuban one, to Bruguera at a meeting on Friday. However, the artist declared that she would not leave Cuba, “Until I have an official document in my hands that legally assures me I can reenter the country without problems,” which the Cuban authorities have promised to have to her within the next two weeks. continue reading

“My argument was never that I would leave Cuba: my argument is that there is work so that freedom of speech and expression exist in Cuba, so that violence against thinking different politically different is penalized,” Bruguera said in the statement.” In Cuba people should feel happy to speak their minds without fear of losing their jobs or their university careers, without fear of being isolated or going to prison. ”

The artist also expressed her wish that “one day the police will be in a proud demonstration of those who think differently from them. My argument proposes an amnesty and eliminating the figure of the political prisoner because no one would be punished for thinking for themselves.”

“My argument was always Cuba’s need for a civic literacy campaign where everyone knows and learns to defend their rights as citizens,” concludes Bruguera.

Since the Cuban government prevented her from staging her performance six months ago, Bruguera has had several run-ins with State Security. On June 8 the artist was detained along with 47 Ladies in White at the exit of Santa Rita Church in the Havana’s Playa municipality. A few weeks earlier, during the activities of the Havana Biennial, Bruguera decided to pay tribute to Hannah Arendt with more than 100 consecutive hours of reading, analysis and discussion of the book The Origins of Totalitarianism. The event was hijacked by successive acts of police pressure, a noisy street repair project outside the home of the artist and the subsequent arrest of her and several companions.

The Siege of Tania Bruguera Is Lifted / 14ymedio

The artist Tania Bruguera at the front door of her home. (Yania Suárez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 June 2015 — Last Friday, June 26th, a police official paid a visit to Tania Bruguera to inform her that the charges against her were being temporarily lifted. The artist refused to sign the offer, and demanded that the charges be permanently lifted, without any restrictions on her returning to her own country.

This information was made public by a message sent through the #yotambienexijo (“I also demand”) platform nearly six months after Bruguera was detained while preparing to give a performance in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución. At the time of her arrest on December 30th, the authorities also confiscated her passport, without which she cannot leave the country.

Bruguera decided to launch the Hannah Arendt Artivist Institute during the Havana Biennial. For more than one hundred consecutive hours, she led the reading, analysis, and discussion of Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. The event was ignored due to relentless police pressure, a very noisy street repair right in front of the artist’s home, and the subsequent arrest of Bruguera and several companions.

In the text published last Monday on the #yotambienexijo platform, the artist explained that the deal offered her “is unacceptable blackmail, whose intention is to control my art and silence me as a citizen.” Meanwhile, she is suing the Cuban Ministries of Culture and of the Interior for damages incurred during last December’s events.

Links to #yotambienexijo sites:
Restaging of Bruguera’s Tatlin’s Whisper 6 in Times Square in NYC

Translated by José Badué