Seven months have passed since Cuban authorities arrested Tania Bruguera multiple times, suspended her performance “Tatlin’s Whisper #6” — which aimed to encourage free speech in her native country — and confiscated her passport. In the past few days, the Cuban artist has made numerous headlines once more, following the lifting of her travel ban and return of her passport in Havana, as well as major announcements supporting her work in New York.
On July 10, Bruguera— who since the series of incidents at the end of last year was also detained at the Havana Biennial and other protests — officially recovered her passport from the government, although, as the Art Newspaper reported, she said that she would leave Cuba only when she is certain that she may return “without any problems.” Cuban officials will allegedly present her with a document guaranteeing hassle-free future travel within two weeks.
The news is especially timely as it coincides with the City of New York’s announcement today that Bruguera will be the first artist-in-residence at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) starting later this month. In her new role, for which plans have been underway since last year, Bruguera will assist MOIA in communicating with New York City’s populations of undocumented residents and helping such residents better understand and take advantage of the offerings open to them through the city’s new municipal identification card program.
The idNYC initiative, which launched in January, grants residents access to citywide programs and a host of cultural benefits. Bruguera will also work over the course of her one-year residency with Immigrant Movement International (IM International), a community space she launched with the Queens Museum and Creative Time in 2011, which also provides various educational, health, and legal services to immigrants. In a sense, the announcement is a radical one, with the City of New York pledging its support for an artist who is challenging authorities to allow greater freedom of expression at a moment of increased scrutiny following the recent reopening of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US.
In another gesture of support for Bruguera’s work this week, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) acquired “Untitled (Havana 2000),” a performance and video installation first presented at the 2000 Havana Bienniale. There, the installation occupied a long tunnel in the La Cabaña fortress, an ex-military jail where prisoners of conscience were held during the Cuban Revolution. Bruguera covered the floor with decomposed sugarcane and hung a television from the ceiling that screened historical footage of Fidel Castro. Cuban officials later censored the piece; its acquisition by MoMA marks the first work by Bruguera to enter the museum’s collection.