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Cuba's Most Controversial Artist Is Running For President

Tania Bruguera announced her candidacy earlier today at the Creative Time Summit in Washington, D.C.
October 14, 2016, 9:30pm
Composite via WNYC, Wikimedia Commons

Earlier today Tania Bruguera, a Cuban artist known for pushing the boundaries of free speech in her performances, announced her candidacy for the country's 2018 presidential election. She also encouraged Cuban citizens to follow her example and submit their own names.

The self-proclaimed artivist made a video announcement during the Creative Time Summit, a yearly conference about politics and art happening in Washington DC.

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“Let’s take advantage of the 2018 elections to change the culture of fear,” Bruguera said in the beginning of her speech, which you can watch below. “Let’s take advantage of the 2018 elections to start thinking differently.”

Bruguera's proposal is a civic exercise in seeing what happens when citizens assume maximum involvement in their political systems. "Let’s use 2018 to build a different Cuba. To build a Cuba where we are all in charge, not only a few," she continued in her speech. "Today I will start this exercise."

Bruguera has a history of support from non-Cubans like Anish Kapoor and Howard Hodgkin, who were among the 14 who protested her arrest last year for #YoTambienExijaa censorship protest-performance heldamidst negotiations to elimanate the US-Cuba embargo. Actions like this, however, make her controversial inside Cuba. “As soon as you do dissident art in Cuba, you are erased from our art history,” she told The Creators Project in an interview earlier this year. One example is exiled Cuban artist Lázaro Saavedra's reaction to #YoTambienExija, calling her arrest, “another point on her artistic curriculum rather than a gain in terms of civil rights,” in a blog post.

It's difficult to say how much traction Bruguera's candidacy will get in her home country. Cuba is ranked among the 10 most-censored countries in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists, so today's announcement will require a lot of effort to reach Cuban ears. If it gets there, she'll still be up against some art institutions within the country, including the National Mixed Media Arts Council, whose refusal to support #YoTambienExija may have led to her arrest. On top of that, Cuba’s single-party system means that all the potential candidates are chosen directly by the National Assembly, who have been reinstating Fidel and Raúl Castro for decades.

Nevertheless, Bruguera is excited and tireless in her call to action for Cubans to collectively test the limits of their political system by running for president. "Let’s start thinking, 'What if we actually had that power? Who would we be? What would we do?' And that's what we’ll demand from those who are in power," she says in the final lines of her speech. "I propose myself as a candidate for the 2018 elections. Propose yourself!”

Learn more about Tania Bruguera's manifesto, politics, and art practice on her website.

Related:

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Know Your Hashtag: #YoTambienExijo

¡Artistas, Arrested! : Last Week in Art [Cuba Edition]