Tania Bruguera - Latin America New York Tuesday, May 26, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Connecticut
    Rhona Hoffman Gallery, New York

  • Exhibited

    Caracas, Museo de Bellas Artes, III Bienal Barro de América, 1998
    Havana, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo Wifredo Lam, Obsesiones, 1998
    California, Iturralde Gallery, Lo que me corresponde, January 5 - February 20, 1999
    New York, Watermill Foundation, Molino Cubano, August 3, 2003
    Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art, The Hours - Visual Arts in Contemporary Latin America, October 5, 2005 - January 15, 2006
    Germany, Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Tania Bruguera. Installation / Performances, July 22 - September 17, 2006
    New York, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York, Transfigured Worlds: Kongo Power Figure and Bruguera's Displacement Costume, January 28 - April 11, 2010

  • Literature

    H. Herzog, The Hours - Visual Arts in Contemporary Latin America, Dublin, 2005
    H. Posner, G. Mosquera, C. Lambert-Beatty, Tania Bruguera: On the Political Imaginary, New York, 2010, p.70 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The present lot, Displacement, 1998-1999, embodies one of Tania Bruguera’s exemplary performances within her oeuvre and epitomizes what her body of work is ultimately about: extraordinary, sometimes extreme, physical and psychological feats of endurance, imbued with political content that explores the issues of exile, displacement and instability amongst others. With performative pieces such as Displacement, 1998-1999, the artist intends for her audience to internalize them so that they become part of their own experience, a “lived memory”, blurring the boundaries between art and life. More importantly, art serves as testimony for Bruguera, an ethical social commitment that, as she aptly states, “[has] to be completely linked with life and not a fiction or virtual reality, but as alive as possible. My art has to have a real function for myself, to heal my problems or to help other people to reflect and improve…”

    At the age of twelve Tania Bruguera had already begun studying art at the Escuela Elemental de Artes Plásticas in Havana, where she was exposed to interdisciplinary and experimental practices. Around this time the pioneering 1984 Havana Biennial opened providing a global space for contemporary art from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East to be discussed and exchanged. Bruguera and her artist colleagues inherited this experimental context in the 1990s, resulting in the emergence of a new generation commonly referred to as New Cuban Art. It was during this time that Bruguera consolidated her unique performative brand of art, in which she chose to work with the real and the present, rather than with traditional modes of representation. Her performances often reflect a biting critique of Cuban life since the supposed triumph of the revolution. Yet Bruguera also went beyond her generation’s concerns, as she incorporated the political spirit of her exiled artistic predecessors and developed it into her own fresh brand of activism. It was partly because of performances like Bruguera’s that there was a repressive backlash in the Cuban art scene, largely because the art went beyond the degree of criticism that the government tolerated. Thus, the late 1990s were a critical moment for Bruguera, when she questioned her identity and what it meant to be Cuban, if “being Cuban [means] solely living here, or whether it signified a condition beyond borders”. (Helaine Posner, Tania Bruguera – On the Political Imaginary, 2009, p. 21). The transgressive identity politics and her criticism of Cuban society is precisely what allowed her art’s importance to extend beyond its national borders and placed Bruguera at the forefront of international contemporary art.

    Bruguera’s work was also influenced by artist Juan Francisco Elso Padilla, one of her instructors at the Escuela de Artes in Havana, who was a pioneer in experimental art pedagogy and was also part of the first generation of progressive political dissent in Cuba. Padilla’s art had ritualistic and mystical approaches that are involved with the act of possession, which are typical of Afro-Caribbean religions and consist of deities who possess a worshipper’s body to come to this world and express themselves. Displacement, 1998-1999, alludes to Afro-Caribbean syncretic religions, as Bruguera impersonates the Nkisi Nkonde deity who possesses a human worshipper, who is also Bruguera. Nkisi Nkonde is a fetish figure in Cuban folk beliefs who grants petitions in exchange for offerings and promises. Bruguera’s version of Nkisi Nkonde is a remarkable, monumental suit made of layers of Cuban earth, replete with nails protruding from the arms, legs and head, which symbolize the devotions of each of the petitioners. When the devotees do not fulfill their promises, Nkisi Nkonde seeks out the supplicants and punishes them. In her performance Bruguera underwent a feat of physical endurance by wearing the heavy suit, and theatrically awakening to hunt for her transgressors throughout the streets of Havana. Through her work, Bruguera states that her body is also “her own subjective body, but it was simultaneously ritualized into a social body.” (Helaine Posner, Tania Bruguera – On the Political Imaginary, 2009, p. 21)

    Another fascinating aspect of this work is the purposeful use of Cuban earth, which alludes to her seminal performance The Burden of Guilt, 1997-1999, a work in which Bruguera ate Cuban dirt mixed with salt symbolizing tears. This was based on a legend in which the Cuban natives committed collective suicide by consuming the dirt from their inherited land occupied by Spain as a symbol of passive resistance. In The Burden of Guilt, Bruguera also engages in passive resistance by eating her own land and passively succumbing to the will of the government, echoing feelings of guilt. To this day, Cubans have the popular expression comer tierra (literally translates to “eat dirt”), which means to experience very difficult times. Thus, her choice of Cuban layered earth for Displacement, 1998-1999 is highly significant, as it arguably alludes to this inherited land, perhaps reinforcing this sense of belonging and guilt embodied by Nkisi Nkonde chasing her trangressors. More importantly, the viewer experiences once again a living memory of social activism, where the artist blurs the borders between art and life.

    The importance in experiencing this lived memory evidences how Bruguera has truly revolutionized the genre of performance. She never omits the social implications of her works, which is significant in a genre that is often uniquely critiqued on its conceptual merit. Therefore, the present lot signifies an action beyond the anecdotal, achieving a real, tangible social and political impact.

  • Artist Biography

    Tania Bruguera

    Cuban • 1968

    Tania Bruguera began her study of art at age twelve in Havana at the experimental Escuela Elemental de Artes Plásticas and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Bruguera has developed a unique body of performative art that deals with reality and the present rather than with traditional modes of representation. This approach revolutionized the performance genre, allowing viewers to experience a living memory of social activism where the artist blurs the borders between art and life.

    Bruguera's performances explore immigrant rights and serve as a biting critique of the Cuban existence since the triumph of the supposed revolution. Bruguera's conceptual art, which she calls arte útil, achieves a tangible social and political impact and has led to her recognition through numerous awards. In 2014, Bruguera was famously arrested and subsequently detained in Cuba for almost a year following her attempt to restage her famous piece Tatlin's Whisper #6, which originally gave Cuban citizens a platform for free speech during the 2009 Havana Biennial.

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Destierro (Displacement)

sculptural suit, Cuban mud and nails
78 x 32 x 24 in. (198.1 x 81.3 x 61 cm)

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $81,250

Contact Specialist
Kaeli Deane
Head of Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1352

Latin America

New York 26 May 2015 4pm