The artist Tania Bruguera explained, in a statement published this Saturday on her Facebook profile, why she decided not to participate in the XIII Biennial of Havana.
"Before citing my reasons, I want to clarify that I admire the work of the curators of the Havana Biennial and I do not consider any of my reasons their responsibility. Rather, they are related to the cultural policies of the Culture Ministry. I am an artist deeply influenced by the Biennial of Havana, and perhaps this is whey what is going on hurts me even more," begins her letter.
The activist does not understand "the inconsistency of suspending the Biennial in 2017 to cede its resources to reconstruction in the wake of Hurricane Irma [...] and now, in 2019, when a few months ago a tornado devastated several of the poorest working-class areas of Havana, the Culture Ministry (MINCULT) has decided that it is more important to spend a good part of its budget to promote and exploit La Bienal de La Habanato burnish its international image after the campaign against Decree 349."
Bruguera questions the MINCULT's "institutional transparency". "When the Vice Minister of Culture [Fernando Rojas] was openly asked, via Twitter, regarding the budget of this edition, his response was a string of personal accusations without, of course, answering the question."
"When I explained to him that this was an internationally established practice, his response was silence. That silence continues, as for the Culture Ministry the material and promotional support for an artist's project is decided not based on their artistic quality, but rather their loyalty to the Government, and how it can take advantage of the artist to polish the country's international image," she added.
In the artist's view, "the objective of this Biennial is not to promote Cuban artists (which will be up to each one, depending on their capacities) but rather for everyone to understand that Decree 349 will be enforced only on those who are independent and ask awkward questions."
Bruguera will not attend the plastic arts event, she explains, "because I could not be at an event sharing impressions on the artistic merits of a work of the XIII Biennial of Havana knowing that Congolese medical students are being repressed, abused and threatened at gunpoint by the Cuban police in the very streets where we are walking to go to see an exhibition, and nobody is doing anything to prevent it, or showing their solidarity."
"I couldn't take a selfie among friends while I know that, at that very moment, there are artists who are prisoners and constantly harassed because they are viewed as threats, because they challenge the official narrative of the Biennial advanced by the MINCULT. I cannot continue to justify things with the official euphemism 'bad work' which means 'I don't want to get into that because it will mean trouble. I cannot be an accomplice, because we already know, with irrefutable evidence, that State Security is giving the MINCULT orders," she writes.
Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, for example, was arrested on Friday for performing a politically charged performance in front of his house in the Havana neighborhood of San Isidro. On Saturday there was still no sign of him. Friends and other activists complained that the political police had claimed that he had already been released, but none of his relatives knew the young man's whereabouts.
Bruguera finds "incomprehensible the double standards of those who support the protests at the Whitney Museum (for a member of its council being ethically unacceptable) and at the Guggenheim (so that it does not accept ethically unacceptable money) while in Cuba ethically unacceptable attitudes are justified, right and left."
"Nobody is innocent anymore. Those who are blind are so because they've taken out their own eyes, so as not to see. Who cares about the injustices that exist in Cuba? Not those visiting the Biennial. Cuba is not their problem. They are just passing through. For a festival and some nice sun they have sacrificed their ability to pressure the Cuban government to liberate Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, rappers Pupi and Maykel Osorbo, and to stop harassing Amaury Pacheco, his wife Iris Ruiz, and their children," she says.
"Injustice cannot be just a rumor that circulates amidst mojitos, and solidarity in places like Cuba cannot be reduced to just a nice thought. Cuba is not Venice, nor is it Kassel. Cuba is a country that suppresses freedom of expression (especially when there is no Biennial)," criticizes Bruguera.
"[…] My struggle to achieve freedom of expression in Cuba, my defense of cultural rights, and quest for an end to political hatred among Cubans, and for the right to demonstrate in the streets, is not limited to an event, but rather is part of a life mission."
"This is the biennial where nobody is innocent anymore. This is the biennial where everyone must act according to their consciences. My conscience does not permit me to be part of thespectacular process of whitewashing to which the MINCULT has reduced the Havana Biennial," the artist concluded.