Tania Bruguera, the body, society and politics

Geneviève Breerette

From: Breerette, Geneviève. “Tania Bruguera, le corps, la société et la politique,” Le Monde, Dec. 5, Paris, France, 2000.

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Tania Bruguera, le corps, la société et la politique

by Geneviève Breerette

Le Monde, Tuesday December 5, 2000

Artist Tania Bruguera made an installation that was a reflection on art and society in Cuba.

Tania Bruguera, the body, society and politics. 


By our special correspondent

We go through the wall of the Cabana fortress and we are almost there, to the left, to the back of a courtyard. A narrow door gives way to darkness and to a strong smell unknown to westerners: that of milled leaves and stalks of sugar cane covering the ground of this sinister tunnel through which we feel our way while our eyes are fixed on the vague light of a soffit in some distant place, but probably not at the end of it. When we approach, we guess a monitor and some not too clear images, but we recognize the every day Fidel Castro. To make the images legible, we have to raise our nose well enough to reach an uncomfortable balance. The author of this installation is Tania Bruguera, the multimedia artist born in Havana in 1968, whose work was first known abroad towards the middle of the ’90s, together with those of other Cuban artists who exhibited at the Sao Paulo Biennial, at Kwangju (South Korea), at the Ludwig Foundation (which has a seat in Havana) and at the Contemporary Art Fair in Madrid.

In spite of its austerity and apparent simplicity, Tania Bruguera’s installation is an overwhelming piece which makes one wonder about Cuba and its future in some images evocating the Cuban context, its culture, its single party. But they are not that simple: the supreme leader is presented as a common man. We even see him opening his shirt, somewhat exposed, as fragile as those youngsters who, during a performance on the day the Biennial opened, wandered in the tunnel like ghosts, enough to multiply by a hundred the anguish of the visitor who brushed past those beings who moved in mechanical gestures. The naked youngsters were the neighbors of the artist in Old Havana. “Actual people with whom I liked to talk. I showed them some works and they accepted to follow the game. They were naked and made repetitive gestures. One of them dried his mouth with his arm, other tried to take something out of his mouth, another one scratched himself.

Rigorously, for almost ten years, Tania Bruguera does not give up her determination of showing the sociopolitical reality of her country in a relationship from the individual to the social corpus. This has brought her problems, but has not prevented the continuous polishing of her language – it can even be said it has contributed to it -, creating a meaning from nothing, from modest and ephemeral materials, and having spectators, who at the same time are asking themselves questions, not remain passive. This is the case when they are placed in an uncomfortable position to see the neither comfortable nor comforting image of Fidel Castro.  Her work is symptomatologic of what other Cuban and Latin American artists participating in this Havana Biennial do and whose reflection on politics and ideology can be taken as sensual expression. This is a need. In Europe we do not know how to do that anymore.