Fresh Cream-Contemporary Art in Culture

Octavio Zayas

From: Zayas, Octavio. “Tania Bruguera Stands Directly,” Fresh Cream -Contemporary Art in Culture-, Various authors, Ed. Phaidon Press Inc., Londres, England, New York, United States, 2000 (illust.) pp. 160 – 165.

ISBN 0-7148-3924-8

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Tania Bruguera Stands Directly

by Octavio Zayas

[…] She toys restlessly with the idea that individual stories should be understood within the context of social and historical experience.  This approach, however, is not the result of a deliberate scheme to devise an essential pattern or formula.  On the contrary, Bruguera weaves a dense and intricate fabric out of apparently disconnected issues, from women’s topics to immigration, from religious to political questions, from cultural displacement to personal memory.  These open up into a project both intellectual and quotidian that engages the viewer in a constant exchange of signifying possibilities.

Bruguera has been increasingly singled out in biennials and international exhibitions as one of the most promising artist to emerge from Havana during the las decade.  An interdisciplinary artist working primarily with performance, video and installation, she first stood out among international artists in 1997 with The Burden of Guilt, a poignant performance from The Memory of the Postwar series that was realized in conjunction with the 6th Havana Biennial.  Kneeling with her back to a large Cuban flag made from the hair of Cubans living on the island (Statistic, 1996), and wearing a shield constructed from a lamb’s carcass, Bruguera ritually rolled dirt mixed with salt water into small balls, which she consumed over a period of hours.  The piece refers to a legend about Cuba’s indigenous Indians: since could not realistically fight back against the conquering Spaniards, they decided to eat dirt, until they died, as an act of resistance.  The popular contemporary Cuban saying comer tierra (eating dirt), meaning to have a hard time, derived from this. The piece, like most of Bruguera’s performances, not only embodies the historical experience of Cuban people, it also takes on a less obvious social, religious and political undertone that exudes the bitterness of their ongoing experience, as well as the hopefulness of their unbroken spirit.

Despite these cultural references, however, Bruguera’s work transcends specific time and place to signify the human condition in general.  In a more recent performance Body of Silence (1998), the artist was placed in a meat-lined box and watched by the audience through a small opening.  The performer, naked, was seated in a corner writing ‘corrections’ into an official history book.  Trapped by her own fear of the consequences – as Bruguera puts it – she tries to lick the writing away in an attempt at self-censorship, finally tearing out the pages and eating them.  As in other less dramatic pieces, she fuses the personal with the collective through ritual and repetition, highlighting submission as an act of social survival.