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This weekend artist Tania Bruguera was arrested once again in Cuba, along with dozens of other activists, and was manhandled by the police. As with most information about Bruguera over the past few months, the news — which Hyperallergic has not been able to independently verify — comes via the Facebook page for her project #YoTambienExijo (“I also demand”), which was a planned participatory performance on New Year’s Eve in Havana’s Revolution Square that led to Bruguera being arrested multiple times. Cuban authorities also confiscated her passport and are allegedly pressing charges against her.
On Sunday, June 7, Bruguera was visiting and observing a weekly silent protest by the Ladies in White, a group of female relatives of imprisoned dissidents who attend mass every Sunday at the St. Rita of Cascia Church in Havana wearing white, then march through the streets with photos of their missing loved ones. Bruguera attended in part because she’d heard that the Ladies in White had been attacked and arrested by police for the last eight Sundays, and this one was no different: according to a Facebook post, police descended in a raid “which included 3 buses, several patrol cars, 2 motorcycle police and more than a hundred agents of the National Revolutionary Police.” Bruguera was not beaten — the Facebook post says she received “special treatment,” and in an interview with PanAm Post, she clarified that an officer specifically said, “not her, not her, she’s Tania.” Still, she says she was pulled by the hair, thrown into a bus, and handcuffed. The Facebook post claims that she has “several hematomas” on her arms due to her handling by police, and another one shows photos of the severe bruising.
Bruguera had also been attending the Ladies in White protest as research for a new project she’s working on, “to present a law which will penalize violence due to political hate and which would propitiate freedom of expression in public spaces,” according to a Facebook post. The legal research is one of two branches of her current work in Cuba; the other is the establishment of the Hannah Arendt International Institute for Artivism, which she inaugurated with a 100-hour reading of the philosopher’s landmark book The Origins of Totalitarianism in her home beginning on May 20, Cuban Independence Day. The Havana Biennial opened two days later, and two days after that, when she finished reading, Bruguera was arrested again. (On May 23 she was also denied entry to the Museum of Fine Arts for an opening to which she’d been personally invited.)
Those in charge of the #YoTambienExijo Facebook page have been stressing the importance of framing Bruguera’s actions as art, not politics: they’ve posted a 2010 “Political Art Statement” by Bruguera that outlines her thoughts on political art — “It is intervening in the process that is created after people think the art experience is over” — and a clarification about her current position (translated by Hyperallergic):
The only group Tania Bruguera belongs to is the platform #IAlsoDemand, which is the structure of her work. Tania does not belong to any group of opposition, nor of dissidence, nor of activism in Cuba. Tania is an artist who works in an independent manner with EVERYONE … Tania is not an opposition, nor a dissident, but an artist who works with political art and who believes that art can help transform the social and political reality we live in.
Bruguera was released around 4pm on Sunday after her arrest. Forty-seven Ladies in White and other activists were detained along with her, according to PanAm Post.