Why Am I Not Going to the XIII Havana Biennial?

The Cuban Artist and “Artivista,” Tania Bruguera. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Tania Bruguera, Havana, 14 April 2019 — Before giving my reasons I want to clarify that I admire the work of the curators of La Bienal de La Habana and I do not consider any of my reasons to be their responsibility. Rather, they are a response to the cultural policies of the Ministry of Culture. I am an artist formed by the Havana Biennial and maybe that’s why what is happening pains me more.

I am not going to the XIII Havana Biennial because I do not understand the incoherence of suspending the Biennial in 2017 to redirect its resources to the reconstruction of Hurricane Irma — which was a position posed as aesthetic-ethical — and now, in 2019 , when a few months ago a tornado devastated several of the poorest and most hard-working areas of Havana, the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT) has decided that it is more important to spend a good part of its budget in promoting and using the Havana Biennial to clean up its international image in the face of the campaign against Decree-law 349.

Because MINCULT does not practice institutional transparency. When the Deputy Minister of Culture was asked openly through Twitter for the budget of this year’s Bienniel, the response was a string of personal accusations without, of course, answering the question.

When I explained that this was an internationally established practice, his response was silence. That silence continues even when the Ministry of Culture and promotional material support to the project of an artist is determined based not on artistic quality but on their loyalty to the government and the use it can make of that artist to enhance the international image of the country.

Because the objective of this Biennial is not to promote Cuban artists (it affects each one according to their possibilities), but that everyone understands that Decree-Law 349 will be applied only to those who are independent and ask uncomfortable questions.

Because it could not attend a party to share my impressions about the artistic merits of a work of the XIII Biennial of Havana while I know that Congolese medical students are being repressed, abused and confronted at gunpoint by Cuban police in the same streets that we walk to go to see an exhibition, and nobody is doing anything to avoid this happening or to show solidarity with the students.

I could not take a selfie among friends while I know that, at that moment, there are artists who are prisoners and constantly harassed because they are considered ’uncomfortable’ and do not fit into the official narrative of the Biennial created by MINCULT.

I can not continue to justify with the official euphemism “bad work” when in reality it means “I’m not getting involved in this because it will bring me problems.” I can not be an accomplice, because I already know with irrefutable evidence that State Security gives orders to MINCULT.

Because the double standards of those who support the protests in the Whitney Museum (because a member of their council is ethically unacceptable), or in the Guggenheim (so as not to accept ethically unacceptable money), are the same people who in Cuba justify ethically unacceptable attitudes and do it with tremendous joy; this is incomprehensible to me.

Nobody is innocent anymore, the person who is blind is so because he took out his own eyes so as not to see. Who cares about the injustices that exist in Cuba? Not those who visit The Biennial, Cuba is not their problem, they are passing through and have exchanged for a party and sunny skies their power to pressure the Cuban government to get Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the rappers Pupi and Maykel Osorbo out of jail and to stop harassing Amaury Pacheco, his wife Iris Ruiz and their children.

Injustice can not be a rumor circulating among mojitos and solidarity in places like Cuba is not a ’pretty slogan,’ it is not Venice nor is it Kassel; Cuba is a country that represses freedom of expression (especially when there is no Biennial).

Because my struggle to achieve freedom of expression in Cuba, my defense of cultural rights, to achieve the end of political hatred among Cubans and to defend the right to demonstrate in the streets is not limited to an event but is a life mission.

This is the biennial where no one is innocent anymore, this is the biennial where everyone must act according to their conscience. My conscience does not let me be part of the spectacular process of whitewashing which Mincult has made of the Havana Biennial.


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