A Cuban artist currently based in the U.S., Tania Bruguera has the distinction of having presented challenging political work in both countries, as well as in many others. Her ambitious and powerful oeuvre encompasses installation, performance, and long-term socio-political intervention. This is not art for spectators—it's for participants, truth-seekers, fellow-travelers. It is a psychic weapon for the oppressed, a subversive force against the narrow ideological confines of both socialist and capitalist ideologies.
Bruguera's ongoing long-term projects include Immigrant Movement International, which engages people from all strata of society in order to address local and global issues surrounding immigration, and Partido del Pueblo Migrate (Migrant People's Party) which infuses migrants' issues into the political debate in Mexico.
Bruguera's newest endeavor, La Reapertura del Partido Revolucionario Cubano (The Reopening of the Cuban Revolutionary Party), melds her internationalist ideals with her identity as a Cuban artist whose heart remains rooted in her homeland. Aiming to redefine that much-abused word, "revolucionario" (revolutionary), Bruguera is creating a new political party inspired by the original Partido Revolucionario Cubano, which was founded by José Martí 120 years ago to fight for Cuba's independence from Spanish colonial rule.
On December 18, 2012—International Migrants Day—Tania Bruguera launched the project with an initial event in Key West, sponsored by the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO). The location was highly symbolic, because it was in Key West where Martí first introduced the plan for his party in 1892, and it was in that city that he began writing its platform. Also, in today's polarized political context it is worth nothing that Key West is located roughly halfway between the hardened extremes of Miami and Havana. This geography resonates conceptually with Bruguera's core theme of challenging all existing models of government—both socialist and capitalist.
Tania Bruguera at the San Carlos Institute with representations of José Martí; Courtesy of the artist.
The inaugural happening was two-pronged. First Bruguera and the press were given a guided tour of the historical exhibits at the San Carlos Institute, focusing on the history of Cuba and the Cuban community in Key West. The San Carlos was founded in the 19th century by Cuban exiles as a center for promoting Cuban culture and patriotism, and it was there that Martí first rallied public support for his new political party. The current building (built in 1924 after the original was destroyed by a hurricane) is an architectural beauty, and its exhibits, though a bit worn around the edges, are worth visiting for their educational displays and interesting historical artifacts.
After the tour Bruguera held a press conference at the nearby Crowne Plaza Key West - La Concha, during which she outlined the concepts, ideals, and strategies behind her new project.
The artist's primary intent is to open up a spirited, open-ended dialogue among Cubans over the social, political, and economic future of Cuba, with the goal of rethinking what it means to be "revolutionary." She envisions revolution not as the fossilized, authoritarian bureaucracy that "the Revolution" has become over the last half-century, but rather as something quite different—a creative, dynamic process of civic participation by citizens from all walks of life. Her aspiration is for Cuba to truly live up to its image as a progressive island utopia, one that could be a source of inspiration for liberation movements around the world—a nation governed by the democratic will of the majority, which at the same time would include space for the dissenting views of the minority. Naturally this would entail putting an end to the current government practice of labeling any alternative ideas as "counter-revolutionary," and throwing people in jail for simply expressing those views.
The poet-revolutionary José Martí is the perfect starting point for such a project, due to his status as a historical icon whose ethical and intellectual integrity has inspired Cubans across the political spectrum. Having died in battle at the young age of forty-two, Martí never lived to see the free Cuba of which he dreamed—a Cuba liberated from Spanish domination, but one which would also maintain its independence from the United States. A martyr who never had the chance to participate in government, Martí also never had to make the compromises that governing usually requires. As a result, he became a symbol of pure patriotism, a blank slate upon which any politician could project his own beliefs. As Bruguera says, "Everyone uses Martí. He is like a joker." By "reopening" his political party in the twenty-first century, Bruguera seeks to reclaim Martí's essential humanism from the corruption it has suffered under various ideologies. In doing so, she just might be able to resuscitate Martí's potential as a unifying figure in Cuban politics.
Bruguera emphasized that, in contrast to Martí's P.R.C., her party's aims are completely nonviolent. The project is not about revolution through war, but rather, it is about peaceful revolution through dialogue, conversation, and creativity. Indeed, the artist has been greatly influenced by the recent flowering of nonviolent protest movements around the world, such as the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, the "I Am 132" movement in Mexico, and the 15-M movement in Spain.
Another core principle of La Reapertura del Partido Revolucionario Cubano is that all monetary contributions must come only from individual Cubans. No donations from foundations, foreign nations or agencies, or foreign individuals will be accepted. This is key because Bruguera believes it is essential for Cubans to be responsible for their own future. Furthermore, a Cuban living abroad who gives, say, 3000 euros will have no more say-so in the party than a Cuban living on the island who might only be able to afford to give a meager fifty centavos (roughly two cents).
So what specific plans does Bruguera have going forward in order to achieve her vision? As of this writing much is still up in the air. But the artist has almost completed drafting her "Revolutionary Manifesto," which she expects to post online soon. She has also set up an internet discussion forum for the party. And she intends to introduce the project on Cuban soil with a presentation in Havana sometime this year—the 160th anniversary of Martí's birth. Most importantly, she wants to get the word out to the media and see who is interested in participating in the conversation. "Ideally," she says, "it would be all the political forces." Then the party and its platform will develop organically in line with the interest it generates, but always remaining open and transparent, not following the structures of traditional political parties. All events will be recorded, documenting them both as performance art and as political activities that will be shared in the public domain, so that there is complete transparency. Bruguera envisions public meetings in physical spaces, where the voices of everyone present will be able to be heard respectfully—perhaps modeled after the horizontal decision-making processes used by Occupy Wall Street, where instead of a single leader, there are multiple moderators and a variety of working groups focusing on different subjects. Eventually she would like to see a meeting of the international Left in Cuba, expanding the discourse so that it truly has a global reach.
Sometimes artists make the best revolutionaries. Unafraid to embrace the open-ended and the unknown, they can be visionaries, imagining and working toward an ideal future than others cannot yet see. With her latest undertaking, Tania Bruguera has taken a first step and released a tuft of conceptual seeds into the cultural-political winds. Here's hoping that the nascent dreams they carry will find the nourishing soil of intellectual allies, and thus reverberate throughout the social landscape of Cuba and the world.
To participate in the discussion, please visit the party's internet forum:
For more information, or to become more involved, please contact:
You can also listen to the full press conference (in Spanish) on Radio Espacio Estación, artist Agustina Woodgate's internet radio station: http://radioespacioestacion.com/post/38210026382/international-migrants-day-spanish-english
—Eduardo Alexander Rabel
(Image on top: San Carlos Institute, Key West, Florida; Courtesy of the author)