Changing the Cultural Landscape

In the past decade, few have been more of a thorn in the side of the Cuban government than Tania Bruguera. 

Over and over, the Havana-born artist has staged provocative works condemning repression and championing freedom of expression in her troubled home country. 

It has repeatedly landed her in jail – including as recently as last year – where she has been the subject of both physical and psychological interrogation at the hands of the Cuban authorities. 

But nothing, it seems, can keep Bruguera down. She is about to embark on her most politically-agitative project yet – one which she hopes will change the cultural landscape of Cuba for ever. 

Following an online fundraising campaign which raised more than $100,000, the artist is to open the Institute of Art Activism in Havana, the first “safe haven for freedom of expression” in Cuba. 

When it opens its doors in September, the first artists in residence will be the Russian feminist punk collective Pussy Riot, who are no strangers to using art as a way to challenge government censorship.

At a time when Cuba is opening up to the world through restored diplomatic relations with the US and welcoming foreign corporations into the country, Bruguera said it was “essential” that Cubans had a place they could freely deliberate over the direction their own country was heading.

“This is the moment of change in Cuba, when we have a moment as activists and artists in to challenge what is being proposed for our country,” she told the Guardian. 

“I do believe in the power of art to change society but I know this cannot be done alone, and it takes a long time. It is now or never, and that goes beyond my personal safety, my personal quality of life.”

For security reasons Bruguera would not confirm any of the projects she has programmed for the institute, but said they would bring together art and politics to engage and provoke a Cuban audience who had become conditioned into political apathy – and self censorship – by 57 years of cultural and political repression. 

In practical terms, she also wants the institute to generate jobs and help eliminate systemic political violence.

Pussy Riot said they were not going to the institute to have their own voices heard, but “to see if we can assist others in making theirs heard.”

“Artists around the world are increasingly waking up to their potentialities in terms influencing social change, and power centers can often be intimidated by that – both Tania and we have experienced what that looks like,” the group told the Guardian.

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