Cuban performance artist and activist Tania Bruguera began her career back in 1993 but excelled when she received the Guggenheim fellowship back in 1998. To better describe the artist’s approach to art is her performance art piece titled Talin’s Whisper #5 (2008). Bruguera directly worked with mounted police officers to put the audience through crowd-control exercises at Turbine Hall at the London Tate Modern.
The public expected to visit this place and see art pieces like paintings or sculptures, however they experienced something that is not always categorized as art. This is perhaps the beginning of Bruguera’s philosophy about Arte Útil (Useful Art). Bruguera’s definition of art that is useful is to imagine, create, develop and implement something that, produced in artistic practice, offers the people a clearly beneficial result.
Bruguera’s focus resides in political and social change in the sense of starting to practice the future through art. The artist also believes that art is a make-believe form, which can only prove to be effective when people take that practice back home and start asking questions instead of leaving the museum and ending that practice. For the artist, art is not enough when it is only a proposal. Art Útil goes from the state of proposing to that of application in reality. Often artists project their dreams of the future and what human civilization can achieve, but they stay at the moment of just being an idea instead of a feasible project to make a reality.
Following Bruguera’s success in London, she continued to practice her philosophy in Havana Cuba which marks one of her most provocative and memorable performance art pieces yet. Freedom of Expression (2009) premiered at the Biennale at La Havana, Cuba. The artist invited individuals to use a staged press-release platform so they could say whatever they want for one minute while having a white pigeon on their shoulder as a reference to Fidel Castro’s speech in 1959. People talked about freedom and democracy. One of the volunteers said “that one day liberty and expression in Cuba does not have to be a performance.” Bruguera’s performance art achieved for the Cuban government to release a statement saying that the event was an “anticultural and shameful opportunism which offends Cubans and foreigners.”
Bruguera in her TED talk back in 2017 shared the moment I her life that defined the beginning of her artistic career and how shoe would make art that is politically useful and that catalyzes social change. In 1993, as a young artist, she published a newspaper as an artwork. Critics and artists joined collaboration to do the artwork and it was distributed until authorities took notice of this newspaper. The problem was not the content, but her proposal of independent press. The arts council called for her to immediately stop this newspaper artwork. Bruguera’s father who was an Ambassador at the time, accompanied the artist to be questioned by the authorities. From that moment on censorship became the core of the artist’s work. To push further the boundaries of expression and freedom through the implementation of useful and political act. What was illegal in 1993 is still illegal today in Cuba.
Bruguera’s philosophy combines art and activism, which is now a term she pitches as artivism. The Association of Art Útil, initiated by artist Tania Bruguera, is now a part of an ongoing collaboration between Bruguera, Grizelda Arts, Van Abbermuseum, Liverpool John Moores University and the Internationale confederation of European museums, Tate Liverpool, and Ikon Gallery Birmingham.