Contemporary Performance Art in Cuba

This entry will focus on contemporary performance art within Cuba through the works of Ana Mendieta and Tania Bruguera. Performance art, which is typically presented live in front of an audience, has always challenged more conventional forms of art such as sculpture and painting. Conveying themes of the body as well as political actions, performance has played an important role in the twentieth century [1]. Ana Mendieta and Tania Bruguera have explored the concept that “individual stories should be understood within the context of social and historical experience”[2] through their art.

The Cuban Revolution has featured prominently in Bruguera’s performances. It was one of the most influential political events of the twentieth century. Led by Fidel Castro, it took place between 1953-1958, following the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista[3]. In Cuba, communism produced growing unrest and violence among the population as the result of political dissatisfaction[5]. Many fled to other countries including the United States. According to the Center for Migration Studies at the University of Havana, “Between 1959 and 2004 roughly 1,359,650 Cubans immigrated to other countries”[4]. Exile led to the creation of new identities for Cuban nationals.

Born in 1968 in Havana, Cuba, Bruguera examines the effects of both social and economic forces on political events. Throughout her performances, she has “explored both the promise and failings of the Cuban Revolution in performances that provoke viewers to consider the political realities masked by government propaganda and mass-media interpretation”[6]. Her performances have often been censored. For example, El peso de la Culpa (The Burden of Guilt), which she had created for the Sixth Havana Biennial (1995), was officially banned due to what authorities perceived as an anti-revolutionary theme. In this piece, which has been performed many times, Bruguera wears the carcass of a lamb around her neck, mimicking armour. She also wears a Cuban flag made out of human hair. At her feet were two clay pots, one filled with Cuban earth, and the other with salt and water. During the performance Bruguera eats the soil, a symbol of death, continuously for an hour [7]. The salted water also emblematizes death. Cuba’s colonization by Spain was very violent; many indigenous people chose to die rather than assimilate to a European way of life. They ate earth and salt as a way to symbolize agency, ultimately choosing to starve themselves rather than wait for the horrible death the Spaniards had planned for them. Through reference to past events Bruguera provides the viewer with an image of Cuba’s history prior to the Revolution, ultimately suggesting that the country’s national identity results from hardship and the struggles that the people have faced[8].

Politically charged performance art has created a reputation for Bruguera. In 2014, she was detained by Cuban authorities. She had already performed her piece, titled Whisper #6, in Havana’s Plaza in the context of the 2009 Biennale de Havana. The work was created as a vehicle to allow the public to speak their mind openly about social injustice in Cuba[9]. Bruguera was detained again in 2015, for calling a press conference and resisting police. Supporters around the world protested.

Bruguera’s performances pieces are influenced by fellow-Cuban Ana Mendieta. Born in Havana in 1948, she was personally affected by the Cuban Revolution. Critics claimed that her exile from Cuba during the Revolution created a central theme of “conflicts of identity”[10] which became the focus of her work. Mendieta is known for her Silueta Series from the 1970s in which she inserted her naked figure into natural landscapes to create an imprint of herself[11]. Mendieta’s influence on Bruguera can be felt in her sense of timing, her choice of iconographic motifs, and the emotional resonance embedded in the work[12]. Bruguera has performed numerous pieces originally created by Mendieta. According to Cuban-American curator Olga Viso, “Bruguera saw the remaking of Mendieta’s art as a way to reinsert the artist into the collective of Cuban art history”[13].

In her more recent work, Tania Bruguera has taken what she has learnt from Ana Mendieta and looked to her country’s past in order to create a revolutionary form of performance art. She has worked on Immigrant Movement from 2010 to 2015. Based in Queens, New York, this long-term performance piece represents a new style of performance art for Bruguera. The artist rented a space where immigrants could gather and learn English, apply for jobs, and receive legal advice [14]. They could also meet other people from similar ethnic backgrounds and immerse themselves in the experience of their new culture. Those associated with Immigrant Movement were also performers within Bruguera’s project. They would visit areas of the city, and open a dialogue about their experience as immigrants with US citizens. Sometimes this dialogue would result in a welcome to the country, but the migrants were also met with resistance and hostility. The aim for Bruguera was to “bring the cause of civil rights for immigrants into the public sphere”[15].

By looking to Cuba’s past in terms of political events, performance Tania Bruguera, like Ana Mendieta, creates performance pieces that resonate with viewers. The focus of social and political integration, as well as the aspect of interacting and encouraging viewers to relate, allows her to continuously push the boundaries of performance art.


Chrys Apostolatos

Works Cited

[1] “Performance Art Movement, Artists and Major Works.” The Art Story.

[2] “Tania Bruguera | Biography.” Tania Bruguera | Biography.

[3] “Cuban revolution.” Harvard International Review 20.4 (1998): 16.

[4] Pedraza, Silvia. Political Disaffection in Cuba’s Revolution and Exodus. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2007.

[5] Viso, Olga M. Ana Mendieta: Earth Body: Sculpture and Performance, 1972-1985. Washington: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution; 2004. Print.

[6] “Tania Bruguera | Biography.” Tania Bruguera | Biography.

[7] Muñoz, José. “Performing Greater Cuba: Tania Bruguera and the Burden of Guilt.” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 11.2 (2008): 251-65.

[8] Ibid.

 [9] Sutton, Benjamin. “Artist Tania Bruguera Allegedly Detained in Cuba Over Public Performance UPDATED.” Hyperallergic (31 Dec. 2014).

[10] Viso, Olga M. Ana Mendieta: Earth Body: Sculpture and Performance, 1972-1985. Washington: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 2004. .

[11] Ibid.

[12] Goldberg, Roselee. “Tania Bruguera | Regarding Ana,” Tania Bruguera. 1 July 2004.

[13] Viso, Olga M. Ana Mendieta: Earth Body: Sculpture and Performance, 1972-1985. Washington: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 2004.

[14] Cotter, Holland. “Politics as Performance, an Evolving Art.” New York Times, 22 June 2012: C29 (L).

[15] Ibid. For more, see “Tania Bruguera Immigrant Movement International Statement,” in Tania Bruguera:



This entry was posted in Ana Mendieta, Fidel Castro, Fulgencio Batista, Havana Biennial (Cuba), Olga Viso, Tania Bruguera, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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