In the mouse gray uniform worn by inmates, as disheveled as usual and with eyes open wide, Tania Bruguera sitting on a bench in the Acosta Street Police Station seemed to be giving the best performance of her artistic career. At that point at noon on 30 December 2014, they’d already arrested dozens of people in the city of Havana to prevent them from answering the invitation to gather at the Plaza of the Revolution.
As Arnold Hauser said, “Artworks are provocations, we can’t explain them to ourselves, at most we can argue with them.” In 2009, at the Wifredo Lam Center, during the Havana Bienniel, Tatlin’s Whisper had given us much to talk about. An open microphone, where everyone could say what they thought for one minute, was too much for the bureaucrats of the Ministry of Culture’s National Council of Plastic Arts, who arrived to make public their indignation with the libertarian event. But this one went further: it wasn’t in a closed gallery space, but in the Plaza of the Revolution, and it wasn’t just any moment, but two weeks after the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States.
If what the performance proposed was to measure and demonstrate the extent of the government’s lack of tolerance for freedom of expression, we must say it was a success, although for some it only highlighted a self-evident truth. If the style of “slowly but surely” has characterized the work of “the gradual revolutionary” in less complex areas, such as self-employment or the leasing of land in usufruct, what could be expected of civil liberties and politics a few days from the beginning of the dismantling of this “besieged plaza,” where all dissent has been interpreted as treason.
Far from harming the normal development of eventual negotiations between the participants in the old dispute, what happened in the final days of 2014 makes clear for both parties the limits within which conditions and requirements can move. Above all, it sheds light on the absence from the discussion table of alternative civil society, ordinary Cubans, the people, or whatever you would like to call the most injured party in this conflict on the path to extinction.