Tania Bruguera: An Agent for Change

In this blog post, I will discuss the work the inspirational artist/activist Tania Bruguera who has several exhibits at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco. The YBCA is a contemporary arts center featuring music, fine arts, dance, and film/video from a wide variety of progressive artists.

Music — The YBCA embraces a diverse array of styles and genres of music. The facility provides a stage for musicians from all around the world to express themselves by performing in front of Bay Area visitors. These artists use their music to inspire social change and share their unique cultural values.

Fine Arts — The YBCA also serves as a museum, where visitors can view a myriad of art collections and exhibits. These displays come in various different styles, and are sometimes accompanied by the artist to help embolden the intended ambiance and message behind the work. The fine arts exhibits embody contemporary social, physical, and psychological ideals, and have been widely praised by visitors.

Dance — Over the years, the YBCA has been home to many dance productions, coming in numerous forms and invoking themes of numerous cultures. These productions range from more traditional/classical types of dance like ballet/theater to a collaborative types including various art forms and sometimes accompanied by visual and/or audio displays.

Film/Video — Similar to the other art forms displayed at the YBCA, there is a quite diverse display of film/video productions. The visual cinematic spectacles include documentaries, foreign movies, art-house films, and popular, modern movies. The films and videos at the YBCA attempt to promote specific (sometimes obscure) subjects and educate on differing or foreign cultural views.

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is an excellent celebration of the arts, promoting progressive ideals and diverse cultures through art’s many forms.(“Yerba”)

Tania Bruguera is a powerful artist and activist who was born in 1968 in Havana, Cuba, and following her studies in Havana at the Instituto Superior de Arte, she received a masters in fine arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (“Tania”). Since then, through her many works, aesthetics, proposals, collaborations, and movements, Tania has explored “the relationship between art, activism, and social change [in conjunction with]…the social effects of political and economic power (“Tania”).

One of Tania’s most recent and noteworthy movements is the Immigrant Movement International, which is a combination of several short-term and long-term projects that focuses on the status of immigrants and immigrant rights around the world. Her movement began in 2010/2011 in Queens where she worked with elected officials, social reform artists, social service organizations, and local and international communities to dive into the conditions and political representation of immigrants (“Immigrant”). Tania’s ultimate aim of her movement was to start an international political party for immigrants with the goal of having an immigrant elected to a political position with representation in government.

In collaboration with community members, politicians, activists, and immigration academics, Tania created the Migrant Manifesto in support of the Immigrant Movement International, which has been read in several public gatherings and is posted in many arts centers (including Yerba Buena Center for the Arts!). There are ten profound principles in the manifesto, which I will summarize below:

1) Migrants have helped create international connectivity, are engines of change, and have contributed immensely to the quality of life of a person in a country.

2) We are all tied to more than one country, thus migrants in nature, and we must implement universal rights that apply to all (including those we categorize as “migrants”).

3) Similar to elite corporations, individuals should all have the rights to move and not be forced to move. We all should have the opportunity to better our lives.

4) The only respectable law is one that protects everyone, everywhere with no criminalization of migrants.

5) Being a migrant simply means being an explorer, and should not mean belonging to a specific social class or legal status.

6) In our quest for inalienable rights for all, similar to triumphs over slavery, civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights, we must seek victory in gaining rights for migrants.

7) There must be respect for migrants’ cultural, social, technical, and political knowledge, not simply as labor.

8) International borders must be re-thought.

9) We must view the earth as a common space that everyone has the right to enjoy.

10) Fear creates boundaries that create hate, which harms citizens and migrants alike.

(Tania)

I find Tania’s Migrant Manifesto to be a particularly inspiring call to action in her Immigrant Movement International. It relates and applies to all humanity by effectively demonstrating that immigration is a universal human right. I found the first two points to be a powerful reminder to all that every one of us is a “migrant” in some sense of the word, and that “migrants” are the ones truly responsible for the quality of life of every person in every country. The third point highlights how hypocritical it is to allow big business the freedom to travel and operate wherever they please, when individual people (who are the building blocks of any business) are not granted these same privileges. I’m currently enrolled in a class titled “Social Movements and Social Media” in which we study many of the social movements mentioned in Tania’s sixth point, and the good that they have brought to humanity. By juxtaposing immigration reform with these victorious and widely applauded social movements, Tania makes it clear that migrant justice is an inalienable human right no different from race, gender, or identity equality. While the eighth and ninth points were somewhat vague, I interpreted them as arguing that there should be no international borders and that we all should have the right to access any space on earth freely. While a noble thought, I personally believe a world with no international borders would lead to much more harm than good. Although I believe most of humanity is good by nature, there is undoubtedly much evil out there, and it would be foolish to allow everyone free access and ability to anywhere on the planet (just think if ISIS had a green light to enter any country they pleased). Furthermore, when she mentioned reviving the “concept of the commons,” my mind immediately thought about the “tragedy of the commons,” which is the idea that unfettered access to a commonly shared benefit leads to it quickly becoming taken advantage of and results in it being left much worse off. In the final point, I completely agree that fear and restrictions creates hate, and that hate is harmful to all humanity alike. The only thing more powerful than fear and hate is love, and we all need to find a little more love for others if we stand any chance in combatting these ugly forces. All in all, I found Tania’s Migrant Manifesto to be one of the most influential pieces I’ve ever come across relating to immigration reform, and it definitely provided me with some new perspectives on how to view the issue. I hope she keeps sharing this bold message, so it can educate more people on the reality that immigration reform is a human rights issue when it comes down to it.

Another of Tania Bruguera’s long-term projects was the Catedra Arte de Conducta (Behavior Art School). The project was implemented from 2002–2009 in Tania’s hometown of Havana, Cuba and included the configuration of an institution, education formats, public gatherings, and the study of the relationship between politics and the performative arts and its implementation in society. Tania’s goal behind the Catedra Arte de Conducta was to provide a space for alternative training in the arts compared to the established system of art studies in Cuban society. She wanted to educate Cubans on how art was much more than just an aesthetically pleasing display, and could be used as a tool for the transformation of ideology by inspiring action in society. Her work led to political dialogue regarding art by exploring the context and objective behind art. The activities of her project were free of charge and open to participants from a wide variety of fields. There were guest professors that similarly came from a variety of fields, including areas seemingly distant from traditional art including lawyers, mathematicians, and former convicts, to name a few. The Catedra Arte provided many uninformed Cubans access to unseen information on international art, social issues, and cultures, and exchanged with schools in many countries, other art projects, and international residences. It also took a deeper dive into Cuban figures and art, including criticism of unilateral thought, thus promoting a more diverse system of thought.

(“Tania”)

I find Tania’s project in her hometown of Havana, Cuba to be quite important and beneficial to those she educated. Due to the lack of access to information that exists in Cuba, the Catedra Arte de Conducta did a great job in filling the gaps in contemporary Cuban art and educating the community on other cultures and art forms. I find Tania’s efforts to be quite noble in providing the Cuban community with free access to meaningful education in the arts, and am sure its many graduates went on to create meaningful change through their works and by spreading the knowledge they acquired. Art is such a powerful tool to incite social change and spur powerful movements. It should by no means be placed in one cultural box as it previously was in Cuba, and should be treated as a medium for personal, ethnic, global, and collaborative expression. It is unfortunate that art is so underappreciated in many societies, probably due to a lack of understanding of what it has to offer the world beyond simple financial gains. I’m glad the Tania decided to step in with the Catedra Arte de Conducta and provide a much-needed revival of the arts in Cuba and inspire scholarships and financial aid for artist in Cuban society.

Lastly, I will discuss one of Tania Bruguera’s earliest works titled The Burden of Guilt (El peso de la culpa). This work, performed in 1997, was Tania’s take on a story of a time when the Spanish conquistadors invaded Cuba, and the Cubans chose to eat dirt and nothing else instead of becoming captives of the invaders. In her artistic reenactment of this event, Tania stood completely naked with the carcass of a lamb hanging from her neck as a metaphor for the struggle. She stood there, eating soil mixed with water, and salt (representing the tears of the Cubans) for forty-five minutes. Edward Rubin described her performance: “The harrowing piece was first performed in Havana, where the audience was duly reminded that freedom, liberty and self-determination are not abstract ideals, but achievements that deeply inscribe their meaning on our physical being” (Rubin).

(“Tania”)

This performance really encompasses the woman who is Tania Bruguera. She is so filled with passion and determined to spread messages and change that she was willing to stand in front of a crowd, completely naked, for nearly an hour. That level of passion and commitment is rarely seen these days, and is a testament to the fact that Tania views her ideals for social change to be so important, that she is willing to do whatever it takes to spread them. I admire her audacity, and applaud her as a true agent for change in this world.

Works Cited:

“Immigrant Movement International.” Creative Time, creativetime.org/projects/immigrant-movement-international/.

Rubin, Edward. “Art in America Featured Installation by Cuban Artist at Neuberger Museum”. Artes Magazine. Retrieved May 17, 2013.

Salon, Béton. “Centre D’art Et De Recherche.” Bétonsalon, www.betonsalon.net/spip.php?article216.

“Tania Bruguera.” Art21, art21.org/artist/tania-bruguera/.

Tania Bruguera | Cátedra Arte De Conducta (Behavior Art School), www.taniabruguera.com/cms/492-0-Ctedra+Arte+de+Conducta+Behavior+Art+School.htm.

Tania Bruguera | Migrant Manifesto, www.taniabruguera.com/cms/562-0-Migrant+Manifesto.htm.

“Tania Bruguera.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Aug. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tania_Bruguera.

“Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Sept. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yerba_Buena_Center_for_the_Arts.