Performance of the Oppressed

Still from Tania Brugera’s The Burden of Guilt, 1997.

Cuban artist, Tania Bruguera’s politically charged performances present a challenging and worthwhile approach for the radical art educator to adapt into their curriculum. Her work is raw and forceful, and if it makes you uncomfortable, that is evidence of its success. She considers her artistic practice to be “Behavior Art,” which is a movement rooted in performance and pedagogy that is more concerned with sociopolitical ramifications of art making than with aesthetic or material outcomes. It is a concept, not unlike Joseph Beuys’ ‘Social Sculpture’.

Bruguera’s performances are experiential education experiences where the artist and the viewers enter into a social and emotional dialog for the benefit of contributing positively within their community. Her art often address the oppressive forces in government, which have detrimental effects across society. In 2015 she completed 100-hour performance, a reading of political theorist, Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), in her Havana based studio. Shortly afterwards she was arrested by Cuban officers.

Her performance, The Burden of Guilt (1997), is a metaphor for resisting colonialism and authoritarianism. The performance was inspired by a legendary Cuban narrative where the indigenous people resisted Spanish occupation by eating dirt until the collectively died. In her performance, Bruguera consumed a mixture of dirt and salt water.

By challenging the physical, cognitive, and communicative limits of the body, Bruguera’s shocking and corporeal performances raise a critical conscious within the viewer who realizes the need to break free from oppressive societal structures. Her artistic practice is an embodiment of the educational theories of Paulo Freire and John Dewey. Bruguera’s Cátedra Arte de Conducta (2003-2009), was a school for young artists who were interested in socially-engaged art. Through both inquiry and experiential based conversations, students and educators constructed frameworks for artistic practices that were open-ended and focused on developing a dialogue for the Cuban people.

Cátedra Arte de Conducta is a compelling model for how art-centered learning can inspire students’ social and emotional development in school. It is essential that educators use an approach in the classroom where learning is co-constructed and not approached through means that are didactic. Having students and teachers engage in conversations and actions about topics that are meaningful in their own lives and communities is important because it makes education empowering and relevant for everyone.

References, Notes, Suggested Reading:

Espinosa, Magaly. “Arte de Conducta. Proyecto pedagógico desde lo artístico,” Ramona, No. 93, Argentina, Buenos Aires, August 2009. pp. 10 – 20.

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