Occupation: Performance Artist, Installation Artist
Movement: Contemporary Art
Tania Bruguera is an award-winning Cuban performance and installation artist famous for her behavior art pieces, investigating the relationships between politics, art, real life and the position of institutional authority. Her work is celebrated in Cuba and internationally, and she has been arrested on a number of occasions by the Cuban authorities for creating pieces that have vocalized dissent, often involving the participation of an everyday audience. She is also renowned for her academic work, teaching and working with universities in Latin America and the United States from 2003 onwards. Bruguera currently divides her time between Chicago and Havana.
“The Burden of Guilt,”1998
“Tatlin’s Whisper #6,” 2009
“Immigrant Movement International,” (2011 - ongoing)
“Surplus Value,” 2012
Early Influences and Art Schools
Tania Bruguera was born in 1968 in Havana at a time when Cuba’s economic standard of living had dropped significantly from what it had been in the past. Changes in the government had also caused mass emigrations to the United States, Spain and Latin America. Bruguera grew up in a country undergoing radical changes, where living conditions were poor but dissent was suppressed, and people suffered tremendous privations to live in another country. All these elements of her childhood experience have been and still are powerfully present in her work as an artist.
Bruguera’s education in art began early: she began attending the Escuela Elemental de Artes Plásticas 20 de Octubre in Havana in 1980 before graduating from the Escuela de Arte San Alejandro in 1987. She attended college at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana, graduating finally in 1992.
Power / Control
Through the 90s, Bruguera made works that examined elements of power and control, and through her representations, she tried to show how political power manifests itself. For example, in 1998, she created “The Burden of Guilt,” referencing an old Cuban story of how native people chose to eat dirt rather than live under the yoke of Spanish Conquistadors. She created a performance where she stood naked with the body of a lamb hanging from her neck, and ate mud mixed with salt water for 45 minutes. Her aim was to draw attention to the fact that personal and political freedoms are not just abstract values but also manifest themselves physically through our bodies and actions. That same year, she received the Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 1999, Bruguera began studying art again, at the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago.
In the 2000s, Bruguera’s work became internationally known. Within a few short years, she exposed the world to her work by participating in biennales and art colloquiums in Latin America, the United States, Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia. In 2002, Bruguera founded the Catedra Arte de Conducta offering a program in behavior art, at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. In 2003, she also began teaching at the University of Chicago’s Department of Visual Arts. In both institutions, Bruguera held her posts until the end of the decade. Most recently, in 2013, she has entered into a collaboration with the Queens Museum of Art in New York and the Van Abbemusuem in the Netherlands to build the Museum of Arte Util, or ‘use-ful art.’
Dissent and Controversy
In then new millennium, more and more of Bruguera’s work began to focus on behavior and to involve members of her audience in her pieces. For example, most famously in 2009, she staged ‘Tatlin’s Whisper #6’ at the Havana Biennial, where anyone could speak freely and uncensored at a podium on a stage for one minute before being led away by actors dressed in military garb. Many of the participants openly aired their views on the current government and demanded reform and democracy. The exhibit was immediately condemned by the government, and since then, Bruguera has confronted a lot more resistance from the authorities with respect to staging her work.
In 2011, Bruguera began work on a monumental project titled ‘Immigrant Movement International,’ which promises to be as extensive as its subject. She began her project by examining first-hand the conditions and circumstances of living confronted by illegal immigrants in the United States, where they earn the lowest wages and have to survive without any kind of heath insurance. That same year, Bruguera also launched a series of activities surrounding International Migrants Day, trying to raise respect for and awareness of the lives of migrants. As part of the project, she also staged her piece ‘Surplus Value’ in 2012, where participants were made to line up and after being kept waiting, were randomly either allowed to enter the exhibition space or forced to answer questions regarding their travel history under polygraph. 
In 2014, Bruguera was arrested in Havana by the authorities three times on three successive days for trying to re-stage ‘Tatlin’s Whisper #6’ in Revolution Square. She was released after over a 1,000 artists internationally petitioned Raul Castro to free Bruguera. This was a complicated incident with respect to art and politics for the simple reason that Bruguera’s demand was for the freedom of expression.
1968  -  Born in Havana
1980–83  -  Escuela Elemental de Artes Plásticas 20 de Octubre, Havana
1983–87  -  Escuela de Arte San Alejandro, Havana
1987–92  -  Instituto Superior de Arte, Havana
1998  -  Recipient, Guggenheim Fellowship
1999–2001  -  School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
2000  -  Prince Claus Prize, The Netherlands
Lives and works in Chicago and Havana
1986  -  Galería Leopoldo Romañach, Havana
1987  -  Instituto Superior de Arte, Havana
1992  -  Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales, Havana
1993  -  Galería Plaza Vieja, Havana
1994  -  Havana Biennial, Centro Wifredo Lam, Havana
1995  -  Artist's home, Havana
1995  -  Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
1996  -  Espacio Aglutinador, Havana
1996  -  Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam, Havana
1997  -  Feria de Arte Contemporáneo, Madrid
1997  -  Tejadillo 214, Havana
1997  -  The Base Space, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
1998  -  Stadhaus, Zürich
1998  -  Musée de Beaux Arts, La Chaux-des-Fonds
1998  -  Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam, Havana
1999  -  Vera van Laer Gallery, Antwerp
2001  -  Casa de las Américas, Havana
2001  -  Liebman Magnan Gallery, New York
2002  -  Palacio de Abrantes, Salamanca
2002  -  San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco
2002  -  Deste Foundation, Athens
2002  -  Pratt Institute, New York
2002  -  Documenta, Kassel
2002  -  Helsinki Art Museum, Helsinki
2002  -  IFA Gallery, Bonn
2002  -  Bienal de Lima, Lima
2003  -  Museum fur Modern Kunst, Frankfurt
2003  -  Franco Soffiantino Gallery, Turin
2003  -  Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana
2003  -  Istanbul Bienale, Istanbul
2004  -  Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, San Jose
2004  -  Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago
2005  -  Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, Malaga
2009  -  Havana Biennial, Havana
Museum of Modern Kunst, Frankfurt
Daros Foundation, Zurich
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago
Museum of Modern Art, New York
“Tania Bruguera: On the Political Imaginary” by Helaine Posner and Gerardo Mosquera

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