Cuban artist Tania Bruguera is the 2016 CAA keynote speaker. I wrote this short article after interviewing her for Chicago Weekly, February 23, 2006. It is of interest to me, in light of current political unrest, to see the ironies in this interview decades later.
“Known for her performance work, Tania Bruguera feels that contemporary Cuban artists have a responsibility to make socially redeeming art. She recalled that early inhabitants of Cuba were non-aggressive and consequently were slaughtered by Spaniards or committed suicide by eating dirt. In a previous performance, Tania ate dirt until her audience lost interest. On another occasion, she demonstrated the value of cooperation as assistants collected hair from several thousand people and then used it to sew a Cuban-esque flag. In African-based religions that pervade her country, hair was thought to control the thoughts and actions, of others. At another performance, an audience was asked to feel vibrations in a floor. When invited to approach the microphones where the sound naturally should have originated, the equipment was dead.
Tania stressed that the plight of the Cuban people had not caught the international consciousness, as did the victims of the Nazi regime. During a recent performance in Germany, Tania used microphones in the vicinity of the Nuremburg Trial arena so the audience could hear final statements made by Nazis. She felt that today's Germans do not take enough responsibility for past atrocities. While in India, she created a tessellation of a tea bag forming a face of a Hiroshima victim, which conveyed thoughts of colonialism and political manipulation. Tania explained that Cuban art has similarities to work currently being made in China. The work has a global appeal while maintaining themes of local necessity. Her recent work employed emotional perception. On an airplane, Tania inserted dental instruments into her mouth while an adjacent passenger videotaped her facial gestures. When asked if she could continue these performances in light of travel restrictions after 9/11, Tania shrugged and indicated that that might be a problem.”