Visual Arts

Banned in Cuba, but open in New York

“Tania Bruguera: Untitled (Havana, 2000)” runs through March 11 at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 W. 53rd St., New York City.
“Tania Bruguera: Untitled (Havana, 2000)” runs through March 11 at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 W. 53rd St., New York City. Museum of Modern Art

Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera is back in the news with the opening of her “Untitled (Havana 2000)” installation at New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), showing through March 11.

Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera.

The work, acquired by the museum in 2015, features a surface covered with sugar cane bagasse, a video of Fidel Castro and naked bodies in the shadows.

“This exposition comes at a moment when big nationalist speeches are back,” Bruguera said by phone from New York. “I think it's important to remember that what happens somewhere else can also happen in societies that seem to be immune from dictatorship.”

Conceived initially for the VII Havana Biennial in 2000, the installation was presented in La Cabaña, a Spanish colonial fortress in Havana where the Castro revolution tortured and executed its opponents during the 1960s.

According to the program notes, the work addresses the contradictions of life in Cuba under the Castro Revolution.

The installation was open to the public just a few hours before authorities shut it down with the pretext that male nudity was forbidden. It also represents the complex relationship between Cuban artists and authorities.

Bruguera told el Nuevo Herald that Cuba “is now going through a very confusing moment because the government is making mistakes that affect differing groups of people, and people are less afraid because they are starting to have access to information that is not provided by official channels.”

“Many Cubans have already seen other worlds, and some have a certain economic independence that (with time) could turn into ideological independence,” she said. “But we also have the return of racism, classism and social injustices that cannot be hidden.”

Bruguera lives in Havana and is currently studying in New York City. Her career has been highlighted by her human rights activism and clashes with Cuba's forces of repression.

One of her best known works was “El Susurro de Tatlin” in 2009, which provided a podium for the free speech normally outlawed in Cuba. She tried to repeat it later in Havana's Revolution Plaza and in 2014 at the monument to the victims of the USS Maine explosion. She has been arrested several times by state security agents.

In 2016, she launched the Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism in an attempt to create a platform where Cuban could learn about their civil rights and provide an alternative space where people with different politics can work together in a democratic setting.

The MoMA show “represents something that every artist knows – that art survives any government,” she declared.

MoMA has arranged a series of programs around the show, including seminars by Bruguera on art as a social tool; a panel discussion with Bruguera, Claire Bishop and Gerardo Mosquera; and a weekend of films about censorship in Cuban movies.

If you go

“Tania Bruguera: Untitled (Havana, 2000)” runs through March 11 at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 W. 53rd Street, New York City.