A total of 14 artists has written an open letter to the Guardian, in which they condemn Cuban artist Tania Bruguera’s continued detention in her home country. The notable collection of signatories includes four Turner Prize winners – Simon Starling, Mark Leckey, Jeremy Deller and Elizabeth Price – as well as Sir Anish Kapoor and the painter Howard Hodgkin.
Following the artist’s plans to stage a performance critical of the Cuban government’s free speech record, in December 2014, Bruguera was arrested and had her passport confiscated
The planned work #YoTambienExijo would have involved Cubans taking to Havana’s Revolution Square to speak openly about their feelings about the country and vision for its future. The artist was attempting to seize upon thawing diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba. Despite being refused permission by the state-run arts council and the national revolutionary police, Bruguera still attempted staging the performance regardless. Now the artist, who usually flits between Cuba and New York, now cannot leave the country and may face charges of disrupting public order, resisting police and inciting to commit a crime.
Speaking to the Guardian, Tate curator Catherine Wood said of Bruguera’s current plight, “She is not an artist who shies away from complication or controversy. I am worried about her because she really puts herself on the line in her work” said Wood. “I am worried about her because she really puts herself on the line in her work. She tried to stage a similar work in the biennale in Havana years ago, which was again people having a moment of free speech in the public square, and that got her in trouble with the government back then. I think she is very brave and knew what was at stake in staging this latest work but felt compelled to do it, given the way things are going politically in Cuba.”
In the open letter, from artist’s including Simon Starling, Mark Leckey, Jeremy Deller, and Elizabeth Price, the group argues that Bruguera’s aim in her work “is not a question of direct political action but to open our eyes to the injustices and social issues in the world and to expose the mechanisms of power and protocol that shape human behaviour”.
The artist herself stated: “I never thought it would generate such a disproportionate response,” she said. “Most significant was that of the president of the National Council of Arts himself, Ruben del Valle, who told me after two lengthy meetings that he washed his hands of what might happen to me legally – or anything else.”
The artist added: “I make art that appropriates the tools of the political and tries to generate political moments, an art through which one speaks directly to power and in its own language … what I have experienced in the last weeks has changed my life. I will never stop being an artist, but maybe now I have to be here. They have to understand that they cannot throw out of the country everyone who bothers them.”
Wood went on to explain that the Cuban authorities’ constant surveillance of the Bruguera’s communications has been isolating for the artist and that actions such as those of the 14 signatories on Monday can certainly help.