b. 1968, Havana
Tania Bruguera was born in Havana in 1968. She received a BFA in fine art from Escuela de Arte San Alejandro, Havana, in 1987, an MFA in painting from the Instituto Superior de Arte, Havana, in 1992, and an MFA in performance from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2001. Bruguera choreographs performances that question the possibility of political representation and attempt to collapse the distance between art and life, eroding institutionalized injustice and prejudicial hierarchies in the process.
Bruguera’s early work focused mainly on using her own body to challenge established structures of power through performance. Inspired by the work of fellow female Cuban artist Ana Mendieta, and by political activism in 1980s Cuba, Bruguera produced Tribute to Ana Mendieta (Homenaje a Ana Mendieta, 1985–96), a series of reenactments of the older artist’s series Silhouettes (Siluetas, 1973–80). The Burden of Guilt (El Peso de la Culpa, 1997–99) was informed by a legend of the mass suicide of a group of indigenous Cubans who supposedly ingested large amounts of soil in an act of passive resistance to the Spanish. The work consisted of Bruguera consuming soil mixed with salt water for forty-five minutes with a lamb carcass hanging from her neck. Here, her body became a signifier for the denial of freedom to the Cuban public throughout history, an enforced hardship commonly referred to as comer tierra (eating dirt).
In 2000 Bruguera’s practice shifted from intimate performance to the orchestration of large-scale interactive situations. In Department of Behavior Art (Cátedra Arte de Conducta, 2002–09), she established an alternative art school. The project was hosted by the Instituto Superior de Arte, Havana, and provided a platform for visiting intellectuals, artists, and students to explore the making of politically driven arte útil (useful art). In Tatlin’s Whisper #5 (2008), visitors to Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall were confronted by mounted police officers, who faced them down as if threatened with an incipient riot. In Tatlin’s Whisper #6 (Havana Version) (2009), a related work staged during the Havana Biennial, Bruguera created a temporary space for the kind of free speech normally denied in Cuba. Members of the audience were invited to take the stage and speak uncensored for one minute. Most recently, Bruguera initiated Immigrant Movement International (2010–15), a five-year project about the living conditions of immigrants in Corona, Queens, New York.
Bruguera has had solo exhibitions at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana (2004); Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, New York (2010); Tate Modern, London (2012); and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands (2013). She has participated in the group exhibitions New Art from Cuba, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1994); A Little Bit of History Repeated, Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2001); The Living Museum, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main (2003); and Move: Choreographing You, Hayward Gallery, London (2010). She has also taken part in the Havana Biennial (1994); São Paulo Biennial (1996); Venice Biennale (2001, 2005, and 2009); Documenta, Kassel, Germany (2002); Istanbul Biennial (2003); Shanghai Biennial (2004); and Gwangju Biennial, South Korea (2000 and 2008). Bruguera lives and works in various cities depending on the location of her long-term projects.