Tania Bruguera Pulls Work From Disputed Bronx Museum Show

She demanded the work be recalled in protest of the Cuban government.

Tania Bruguera in Havana, in 2014. Courtesy Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images.

The latest in a months-long Cuban-American art exchange controversy, Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera has requested that the Bronx Museum of the Arts not include her work in an upcoming exhibition, on the grounds that the exchange relies too much on the Cuban government.

On Tuesday, artnet News reported that Havana’s National Museum of Fine Arts backed out on a deal to lend works to the Bronx Museum, for a show which was to be the US leg of a two-part exhibition called “Wild Noise/Ruido Salvaje.”

More than 80 works traveled from the Bronx to Havana in 2015, and Havana was set to return the favor by sending 60 works for an exhibition in the Bronx in 2016, then delayed to early this year.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Bruguera had been denied entry by Cuban authorities to the National Museum in Havana to see the first part of the show. She said she asked the Bronx Museum’s director, Holly Block, to intervene.

“We asked her but she never signed anything protesting what was happening to me or any of the artists in Cuba at the time who were being oppressed,” Bruguera told the NYT.

Block, however, asserted that she did intervene, albeit unsuccessfully, and added that Bruguera had in fact been trying to visit a different exhibition at the museum.

The second leg of the exhibition, for which artworks were set to travel from Cuba to the US, was shaken up by political fears. Some anticipated that Cubans in America could sue for the works as retribution for Castro-confiscated property (a legal loophole which, revealed too late, caused some board members to resign). It delayed a final go-ahead from Cuban officials.

Dedicated to finally getting a show of some kind mounted, the Bronx Museum reconfigured the exhibition, and decided instead to display works by Cuban artists like Ana Mendieta, Kcho, Los Carpinteros, Wilfredo Prieto, and Bruguera in a show of the same name opening February 17—but three days after the news broke that the works from Havana would not travel, Bruguera herself pulled out of the project in protest.

Cabeza Abajo/Head Down is the name of the work that was to be included in “Wild Noise/Ruido Salvaje.” The video performance from 1996 is in the holdings of the Bronx Museum, but the institution honored the artist’s request to withdraw.

Bruguera opposes the government of the country where she was born, and it doesn’t feel too friendly towards her either. She was arrested four times in 2015, and detained for eight months after staging performances advocating for freedom of expression, including a 100-hour public reading of Hannah Arendt’s 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Earlier this month, she was detained and questioned while delivering humanitarian aid to victims of Hurricane Matthew.

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