Tania Bruguera – “Cuba needs massive civic literacy in the streets”
Tania Bruguera: “Cuba needs massive civic literacy in the streets” /
Diario de Cuba
Posted on October 7, 2015
Diario de Cuba, Joan Antoni Guerrero Vall, 4 October 2015 — After being
held in the country for eight months by the regime, in punishment for
attempting to bring her performance Tatlin’s Whisper to the Plaza of the
Revolution, Tania Bruguera refuses to give in. She recognizes that even
when she was put in the cells at Vivac with Cuba’s repressive machinery
fuming to put an end to her freedom of expression, she was happy because
she felt herself to be free. She acted according to her principles,
despite any action the regime took against her.
In a conversation with Diario de Cuba from New York, the artist recounts
these days, speaks about the present and future of Cuba, and considers
that the Cuban people have a lot to learn: “We need to help people to
understand the happiness produced by things you believe in.”
After eight months in Cuba, what are the lessons you take away from
everything that happened?
I’m still processing a lot of things. I learned that the image of the
Revolution is one thing and how it is sustained is something else all
together. There is an extraordinary dichotomy between the image of the
Revolution and living with it. I also learned that the words we use,
such as “solidarity” and “camaraderie,” have lost all meaning. The
Revolution has used them indiscriminately and they have been emptied of
their emotional functionality, in terms of humanism and activism.
And what meaning have these words taken under the current system?
I think I had the good fortune to understand solidarity and camaraderie:
to believe in the truth of your own principles. In Cuba, we spend our
lives saying slogans that we repeat and that have no meaning. They are
like a rhetorical construction. They are not even constructions to call
to action, in fact they don’t want you to really think about them.
What did the attempt to stage Tatlin’s Whisper in the Plaza of the
Revolution teach you?
In this work I’ve done nothing more, and it what I am most satisfied
with, that it presents a revolutionary ethic and attitude. I have
activated all the concepts and slogans to become part of history, the
whole idea of having principles, everything they tell us that, in
reality, they don’t let us act on.
In this sense I learned that words are not actions. We Cubans have the
right to participate in the history of Cuba. It is a right that has been
taken by the Government. This learning is a personal process all Cubans
What brought about the change?
I came to Cuba knowing what freedom is because I live in freedom. At the
beginning, when I left Cuba, it was a huge lie. Because on leaving Cuba
everything is a lie: you have to lie about your feelings, your ideas,
lie about what you really want in life.
To speak the truth in Cuba is dangerous. It cost me great personal labor
and great discipline to understand the value of truth, of experiencing
saying it. I still have to be careful, although I have spent hears being
a person who doesn’t lie and talking to people who don’t lie.
Because of this I stopped talking to State Security agents. I would like
it if people in Cuba could experience how good it feels when you are
doing things you believe in, being honest, speaking the truth for once
in your life.
Was it difficult being in jail?
It was very difficult, but at the same time I had no problem because I
had a much stronger sense of happiness because I said what I thought
instead of what they tried to make me do. It is a very rare thing. I
learned that injustice has a physical manifestation. You feel it in your
body. So I believe that the Cuban body is numbed by the injustice it has
had to bear for years. The blood is numb, it is something that is passed
down from parents to children. Fear in Cuba is in the social DNA and
that is what we must eliminate.
And how can that be done?
We have to make people understand the happiness that comes from doing
things you believe in. My emotional spectrum is much broader now: I
learned things that I still don’t know how to explain.
I learned that the country has to change and that it can’t continue like
this. The Cuban government has the custom of projecting Cubans as a
happy people. And how do they demonstrate this happiness. Because there
is a lot of sex, beaches and laughter. But this isn’t happiness, without
know that one is honest with oneself. This is what is missing in Cuba.
I want to continue working for it. I learned that art can be a part of
history and of participating in an event on a higher scale, beyond the
exposition. I greatly enjoyed how everything happened.
Has your perception of the country changed? Any disappointments or
I always tried to understand who benefitted most from what I did. I was
under a lot of pressure to speak badly of artists who didn’t support me.
If my project is about freedom of expression, I don’t have the right to
judge other artists. If I advocated for the coexistence of differences,
I can’t judge those who think differently.
I harbor no anger against absolutely anyone, I have no personal problem
with any Cuban artist, whatever position they take. I believe this is a
very complicated issues, from many points of view, and nor does
political art in every country support it.
I also realize that, being in Cuba, there was a lot of underground work,
pressuring me to speak ill of the artists.
It could be a Government strategy to support them in isolating my
community even more. I know that my separation from the artists’ union
was orchestrated by State Security. There were people who received
visits from State Security. They told them I was working for the CIA and
that if they went to the Havana Biennial and someone asked them about my
case, they should say they didn’t know anything about what was going on
They told every person a different story. I have faith and I know it
will change. I know Cuban artists are going to join the fight for
freedom of expression because art is finding personal freedom. Under all
the pressure that came from State Security, the curators, the director
of the biennial, there were a lot of people who supported me, perhaps
not all of them publicly and person a person helps you by offering you
their shoulder, they can help you see the light about something that
you’re doing that they think you shouldn’t do.
I love artists very much and they sit down to share ideas with me. I
know I’m not alone and that the community of artists in Cuba supports
and respects me. Everyone has their time. I think that we have to
respect the personal process of each person. I don’t think it’s healthy
to force anyone to make a decision when they’re not prepared to make it.
Is Tatlin’s Whisper already a closed action? Are you finished with it
with your departure from Cuba? Is it possible there will be new attempts
and you will continue challenging the authorities of the island from art?
That depends on State Security, not me. For me, Tatlin’s Whisper is a
work of art of conduct. The significance fo the work is in how people
conduct themselves. The fact that some people were in the Plaza is a
part of the work.
The Cuban Government wants to appropriate for itself all authority
through State Security. It is what they always do. Many people say I
already knew what would happen. What I knew is that it was a historic
moment. In those moments things didn’t function in the same way as
always, things could change the meaning. People were outside their
comfort zone and reacted in unexpected and different ways. I had this
element in my favor.
As an artist, the Plaza of the Revolution seems to me to be a place that
is exhausted, an ugly place in the sense that its meaning is very
closed. I had thought of a Plan B, of doing it in other places. But
after everything that happened around asking permission and I saw
everything develop all around me, the art work set aside and the entire
Cuban system of repression and control of the masses put on full alert.
Then the Plaza of the Revolution took on another significance: it is not
a people’s place, it is the center of power, the buildings surrounding
it are places where they create the strategies of repression. So it was
the place to stage the performance. In that moment I thought it was the
place I had to do it.
Throughout the months you have been in Cuba the “thaw” process has
continued. There is an evolution toward models of authoritarian
capitalism. Do you believe the Government will manage to insert itself
into the international community with these “particularities”?
The problem we have in Cuba is the arrogance of the people who are in
power. They believe they are the only ones who have the answers to what
happens in the country and the only ones capable of fixing what is
happening. This is the first problem we have in the country.
The second is that we are going through a transition in which the people
are not given a chance to participate, they are converted into receptors
of orders. It’s like what you would say to a small child, “This is best
for you.” Well, maybe not.
In the model they are following in Cuba — capitalism, feudalism, or what
they are inventing — they are giving a disproportionate priority to the
economy as the solution to the human problems we Cubans are suffering. I
have heard many people, in the opposition and others, who agree that
private businesses and creating a strong middle class will resolve the
problems. I don’t agree with this.
Yes, there should be an economic blossoming, because the people deserve
it, but I believe that the middle class, without a civic education,
could be as reactionary a caste as the leaders of today’s Cuba are. Why?
Because what it happening is that the egotism of those who have power
will be spread a little more.
The Cuban people are a traumatized people, abused, they don’t know what
they feel because they haven’t escaped from it. The first thing that has
to happen is a massive civic literacy program in the streets so that
those who know how to read and write learn to understand what they feel
and to express themselves. The second is the Constitution: it has to be
changed, but by whom. The new Government? A group of intellectuals?
What has to change is the people. I would love to see a system like in
Iceland, where the people were directly involved in the changes. I think
it is very dangerous to transition from ideology as truth to money as
truth. Now the Cuban people deserve explanations, not orders, they
deserve the ability to ask questions have the right to get an
explanation and to have their doubts about this explanation and to be
respectfully responded to.
How do you see Cuba today and the role of self-employment which some
consider the germ of other changes?
With everything that is going there, there has been no improvement in
democracy in Cuba. The owners of the new businesses are reproducing in
the most intense way the social injustices of the Government. There is
no protection for workers in private businesses, there is a reproduction
of the mistreatment… you have been abused and now it is your turn to abuse.
I don’t know to what extent the middle class has a social and national
conscience, or if it is rather a logical response to this spiritual and
economic hunger that they have had for 50 years.
Another question is who can start these businesses, people who have
family in the Government or family abroad. It is false that businesses
in Cuba are free, they are blackmailed politically.
And what does this context portend for the world of art. We recently saw
the censorship of The King is Dying…
The strategies of artists from the ’90s, speaking their demands
obliquely and metaphorically and using displaced geographic examples to
make a connection and to speak about their immediate reality are
exhausted. Artists have the opportunity to present what is happening but
not to question the cause of everything we are experiencing. No one can
make a movie that explores the reasons for the problems.
Their treatment of Juan Carlos Cremata was abuse because it would have
been enough to censor his work. But I think it is very important to
understand why they took away his institutional right to do theater.
They have such a huge fear that they are going to lose control in this
transition that they can’t stop and they can’t fix. They are doing what
they can to maintain control. They are looking for scapegoats so that
the rest of the artistic community will get the message. They are afraid.
Do you think there will be obstacles for you to return to Cuba? On your
departure you had a visit with an agent in the airport…
I did everything I needed to do so they would let me return to Cuba. It
took me a month and a half to get them to give me a letter where it says
my case is dismissed. They do everything illegally. Within six months
they closed the case because after that they have to ask for special
permission from the Ministry of Justice to continue with the
investigation. They took it to the limit.
According to all the lawyers I saw, they have not one single reason not
to let me enter Cuba. My only passport is Cuban, I have not renounced my
residence in Cuba and I have never engaged in illegality. If when I
decide to return to Cuba the government of the United States is still
negotiating issues of human rights with Havana, I think they will let me
enter to demonstrate that I was wrong and that I had an unfounded fear
and to show the Americans that they are not so bad.
If they want to know something. if they need to find something out
through an interrogation, that is another reason to let me in. When I
return I have no intention of speaking to State Security again because
on this trip they came to my house trying to change the way I think. I
am taking advantage of this interview with Diario de Cuba — because they
read it — to tell them that I am not going to speak with them again
because they lied to me, they told me they would free El Sexto on 24
August and he is still a prisoner. And I have said that I do not speak
Another thing that can happen is that if when I return they feel secure
and that they have gotten what they want from the United States, they
might not let me enter.
Finally, what would be the best actions to advocate for an inclusive and
First, a massive civic literacy campaign. People have to learn that they
have something to give and that things can change. What has to happen
then is that the Government releases all the political prisoners.
We should enter into an absolutely democratic process where people
express the vision they have for the country and hold a kind of
referendum about where the Cuban people want to go. Of course, all this
derives from a constitutional change.
I would also support a Truth Commission, so that people recognize what
was done and as a process of social “clean up.” We have to face the
difficult things we’ve experiences, but without condemning people,
In addition, it would be good the for a few generations no Castro could
be in power. I do not want a third Castro in power. Out of decency and
respect for the Cuban people, the descendants of the Castro family can
help the people, through foundations, but they should not meddle in
Out of respect for the people and because they are not better than anyone.
Source: Tania Bruguera: “Cuba needs massive civic literacy in the
streets” / Diario de Cuba | Translating Cuba –