Tania Bruguera: Untitled (Havanana, 2000)

Tania Bruguera is a Cuban-born performance artist and activist. Her work challenges the people who experience it to consider and understand the oppression of the Cuban people under the Cuban revolution and the resulting Castro regime.

Bruguera’s work, purposefully titled Untitled (Havanana, 2000), is set in a long dark tunnel with sugarcane lining the floors. This first took place in a military bunker previously used for prisoners and executions during the Cuban revolution but was quickly shut down by government authorities. The setting was recreated at MoMA using actual concrete walls and sugarcane lined floors. A television on the ceiling shows decaying video of Castro hugging his people and playing the role of a benevolent, powerful, and gracious leader. This contrasts with the lives of Cubans after the revolution.

After my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could see the four naked men standing to the sides. Bruguera’s hope is that “having live naked bodies cloaked in darkness creates an immediacy and an urgency about the vulnerability we all share when we’re stripped of our human rights. [2]” The men were standing in various positions. One alternating between hands up or behind his head, one repeatedly bending over, one appearing to be saluting, and one continuously wiping himself down. The sounds of this were ominous when paired with the crunching sugarcane under the feet of the people entering the passageway. The strong odor of sugarcane was unique and reminded me of Cuba’s dependence on sugarcane production.

Bruguera intended for the piece to “requires one to physically enter an area of political imaginaries - that of an outsider whose understanding of the situation is guided by propaganda or romanticism, and that of a person living the stark day-to-day reality of such a place, a reality that the visitor may prefer not to see. [2]” Bruguera also wants to remind us that her “case is not unique.” There are other artists in Cuba who are forced by government censors to leave the country, discontinue their art, remain unknown, or end their own lives.

This was a pivotal piece in Bruguera’s career, after which she “focused on art de conducta [behavior art] and empowering the audience as an indisputable collaborator in producing the meaning of the work. [2]” She is the founder and director of Catédra Arte de Conducta, the first performance art school in Latin America. The goal of the school is the training of alternative art in Cuba, teaching diverse styles of art and how to use art to transform how people think.

Tania Bruguera’s work challenges the viewers to consider the lives of the Cuban people and the struggles of artists under the Castro regime. Her controversial and pivotal work Untitled (Havanana, 2000) contrasts the image of Castro against the oppression of the Cuban people, raising awareness of the cruelty of the authoritarian regime.

[1] Wikipedia contributors. "Tania Bruguera." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Dec. 2017. Web. 11 Feb. 2018.

[2] MoMA Museum. “Sugarcane, Fidel Castro, and Performance Art In Cuba: Tania Bruguera’s Untitled (Havana, 2000).” MoMA Museum. Print. 9 Feb. 2018.

[3] MoMA Museum. “Tania Bruguera: Untitled (Havana, 2000).” MoMA Museum. Web. 11 Feb. 2008.