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Tania Bruguera wins, civil rights continue to lose in Cuba


From the Cuba-themed December issue of e-flux journal, Havana-based artist and professor Lázaro Saavedra takes a critical stance on Tania Bruguera’s December 2014 attempt to stage a public performance in Havana, which was suppressed by the government. Subsequently, Bruguera had her passport seized by the Cuban government for six months. An excerpt:

Can someone conceive of a performance in the name of civil rights, knowing beforehand that it will be forbidden, and take advantage of the censorship? The answer is yes, and Tania just showed that it is possible. She read Foucault a long time ago, and knows that he who controls space controls human behavior. This is applicable to all sorts of spaces, whether it is that of a “public” institution within the artistic system or a public space outside the artistic system. I do not know if the state has read Foucault, but the author’s ideas are applicable in our context. In Cuba, the state controls public space; spontaneous gatherings are not welcome. Institutional violence, mostly in the provinces, against any street demonstration considered to be dissident or oppositional attests to that. Only in 1994, during the “Maleconazo” uprising, did the state lose control, briefly, over a part of the capital’s public space. One example among many: since the 1990s, Óscar Elías Biscet, in the name of human rights, has tried to operate in the capital’s public space and in that of the provinces, to work on the conscience of the common citizen through civil disobedience. The government’s reaction against him has been harsh. The street belongs to the state, whether it is called Fidel or Raúl. Let us remember the slogan: “This street is Fidel’s!” Tania knew perfectly well that she would not be allowed to realize her piece. Or perhaps she is naive, or suffering from amnesia after having spent so much time outside Cuba that she forgot how things operate inside the country. Does she not remember how they “prevented” her from continuing her independent publication Memorias de la posguerra (Post-War Memories) in the early 1990s? Did she forget what happened during the 10th Havana Biennial in 2009 with Tatlin’s Murmur #6? Did she think that things had changed magically and instantly on December 17, 2014? Did she believe that they would tell her: “Welcome, the square belongs to the people. Let’s open all microphones and let all voices be heard. The police are here to ensure that citizens can freely express their thoughts”? I do not believe that.

Image: Lázaro Saavedra’s piece for the Cuban Pavilion in the Venice Biennale etches the dial of Ideologies Detector in stone.