Cuban born and New York-based Tania Bruguera is a politically motivated performance artist who explores the relationship between art and social change. She believes that art can influence politics and be a force of social change. Her performances and interactive art are based on social activism and community engagement. She collaborates with institutions and individuals so that the realization of her art occurs when others think about what she is saying and may even adopt some of her ideas.
In 2010, Bruguera founded IMI (Immigration Movement International) a long-term project in partnership with the Queens Museum of Art. IMI functions as a community center where art and English are taught to undocumented immigrants. Aliza Nisenbaum, Mexican American artist and friend, volunteers as an art and English teacher and has painted portraits of her students and their families.
Bruguera attended art school in Havana and received an M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2001. She received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 1998 and has been awarded residencies at Skowhegan and Headlands Centers for the Arts, among others.
Sometimes Bruguera performs alone but more often she stages participatory events in her interactive art. Her work frequently addresses Cuba’s history, and she gives provocative performances to show the Cuban government’s propaganda. Bruguera has been arrested several times in Cuba for her controversial performances that called out politicians for their censorship and authoritarian control. She has continued to protest against the Cuban government’s anti-free speech statute known as Decree 349. This was one of the times she was arrested and taken to Infanta police station. She was released the next day but was unable to leave her home even to buy water or food.
1998 “Destierro” was a documentation of one of her performances. She adorned herself in the guise of a Nkisi Nkonde talisman, used by Cubans who practice the Congo religion, and walked through Havana staging a public act of solidarity with a marginal and discredited culture.
In 2008, Bruguera’s performance piece, “Tatlin’s Whisper #5,” had two mounted British policemen in uniform brought into the Tate Museum. They patrolled and herded the visitors using a minimum of six crowd control techniques.. One of the techniques was the use of humor to control the crowd and move them to a certain place. Humor was interspersed with more direct commands with the audience playing along or else becoming a bit wary. In breaking up the audience into two groups, the two policemen transformed the crowd into state-controlled citizens, with this performance showing the relationship between authority figures and the people they control.
In 2012, Bruguera was again in residence at the Tate Modern with her ongoing project Immigrant Movement International. Visitors were required to line up and pass a lie detector test based on questions from the U.K. immigration form before they could enter the museum.
In 2014 she made a pubic performance where she invited Cubans to come to the podium in Havana’s Revolution Square and speak their minds. This event was canceled and several people were arrested. In the same year, she appeared in front of the Guggenheim Museum in her performance piece, “The Francis Effect”, to ask people to sign a petition to Pope Francis for him to allow undocumented immigrants to be given citizenship in Vatican City
In 2018, Bruguera returned to Tate Modern with a new commissioned piece expanding on her concept of art as a social force. For her installation, she covered the floor of Turbine Hall with heat sensitive paint. When visitors to the museum lay on it, part of a portrait of a well-respected Syrian refugee was revealed.
In 2019-2020, Bruguera was featured in Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art in “When Home Won’t Let You Stay.” She has had major exhibitions in the National Museum Wales, Neuberger Museum of Art, Queens Museum, the Van Abbemuseum, Tate Modern, Documenta, Centre Pompidou, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and Biennials in Havana, Venice, Moscow, Sao Paulo, and Istanbul.
Her work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana.