Cuban Dissident Artist’s Exhibition in Chile Draws Controversy

Allende’s grandson criticizes Tania Bruguera’s exhibition at the museum in his grandfather’s memory

The internationally renowned Cuban artist Tania Bruguera

Tania Bruguera, who now lives in the US and is one of the most important representives of political art, has been a harsh critic of the Cuban Government. Thanks to the support of Chile’s Ministry of Culture, amongst others, she was able to visit Chile in June and she will inaugurate an exhibition as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat, at the Salvador Allende Museum of Solidarity, in September. 

While nobody is questioning the quality of her art, some people have expressed their doubts about the relevance of the exhibition as part of the commemoration events, while relatives of the overthrown President have requested the exhibition be canceled, which was also criticized by the Communist Party’s weekly paper. “We are very aware that art unsettles, but we are also very aware that the museum is a safe space to talk about difficult issues. This is the museum’s standpoint. We believe it’s extremely important to establish a dialogue in these 50 years,” the museum’s director, Claudia Zaldivar, said.


By Marco Fajardo (El Mostrador)

HAVANA TIMES – Heated controversy broke out this week, after the Chilean Communist weekly newspaper El Siglo “complained” that a Cuban dissident artist, Tania Bruguera, will form part of an exhibition that will be held at the Salvador Allende Museum of Solidarity in September. In light of this, Pablo Sepulveda Allende, Salvador Allende’s grandson who graduated as a doctor on the island, took to his Twitter account to say that it was a “grotesque provocation” and an “impudent insult.” According to Sepulveda, Bruguera is “an artist that only stands out because her work, political in nature, goes against the Cuban Revolution, this very same Revolution that both Allende and millions and millions of people in Cuba and the entire world admire, defend and love.”

An inside source at the museum, who asked to remain anonymous, accused “the same groups that made Patricio Fernandez resign” of being behind the accusation and criticized “a privatization of pain and a privatization of human rights.” “There’s a whole group from the far-Left that are trying to stop Tania from exhibiting her work in Chile,” they warned.

Critique of the Cuban Government

Tania Bruguera (1968, Havana) is one of the main representatives of political art and has been living in the US since 1997. She has exhibited her work in the Tate Modern and her work has formed part of the international Documenta Fifteen exhibition, in Kassel, Germany, in 2022. She openly criticizes the Cuban Government and in a recent blogpost following Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s international tour, she pointed out on her social media profiles: “Canel might go looking for support from Europe with his tour, but nothing can erase Cuban reality. Over a thousand prisoners of conscience and a starving population are crying out for justice. No reputation management strategy can cover up a dictator’s oppression,” she said.

The Chilean Communist Party said that the exhibition is “a situation that conflicts with the fact that President Salvador Allende always supported Cuba’s revolutionary process, condemned the US blockade and anti-Cuban actions against this country.” He also explained that “the Museum of Solidarity that takes his name will host an artist who is against the Cuban Revolution, and is demanding the end of this regime, while also aiming to get the Chilean Left to back her in her attempt to end the Revolution.”

In a long tweet, the doctor insisted that “the Museum of Solidarity’s insult is even greater because this exhibition is being held on the 50th anniversary of Salvador Allende’s death, who died gripping for dear life onto the rifle that his close friend, Comandante Fidel Castro gave him as a gift,” as well as adding that “it’s shameful having to shine and profit – like converts and neoconverts normally do – by holding onto the image of Allende to do the exact opposite, betraying Compañero Presidente Allende’s principles, which he lived by and died defending,” he said, finishing off by stressing that “we demand that the Museum of Solidarity doesn’t use Salvador Allende’s name for any activity that goes against his values, principles and ideals.”

Bruguera at the UDP party. Photo: Lorna Remmele/ Salvador Allende Museum of Solidarity

The museum’s director, Claudia Zaldivar, regretted the situation and defended Bruguera. Zaldivar pointed out that “she is one of the most important artists on an international and Latin American level, a woman who is working with art and politics, for many years.”

“She is world-renowned for all of the work she has done to question the relationship between power and social control, as the daughter of a diplomat of the Cuban castrista regime, and she is now considered a dissident, especially after the protests that took place in Cuba (where) many artists were arrested and continue behind bars,” she continued.a

“We, here at the museum, invited Tania because she is a very important artist on an international level. We believe that she can do great work regarding human rights and what happened under the dictatorship, from a contemporary perspective. As a result, she was invited to work on the challenges a democracy faces after suffering a past like the one we’ve had, which is a painful past that we are still carrying with us in a country that is extremely polarized and we believe it’s important to address this subject,” she weighed in.

According to Alex Chellew, president of the Chilean Painters and Sculptors Association (APECH), the museum “can invite whoever it wants.”

“Freedom means freedom of choice and they chose this artist to promote the event, spark controversy and a debate, I’m sure. As an artist, I don’t question the limits of freedom and art,” Chellew said, without forgetting Allende’s connection to the island.

“Of course, we know that President Allende supported the Revolution in Cuba. Lots of artists – myself included – condemn the US blockade against the Cuabn people and lots of them defend the Cuban Revolution and that’s their prerogative,” he added.

Bruguera (right) with a group of young artists.

Intense agenda

Tania Bruguera was in the country in May, where she had a schedule that included visits to memorial sites and meetings with important political and cultural figures, from what she posted on her social media.

She was with young artists, such as Felipe Rivas San Martin, Seba Calfuqueo, Jaime San Martin, Mariairis Flores and Jo Contreras, journalist Alejandra Matus, poet and National Literature Award winner Raul Zurita, actor Francisco Reyes, former senator Andres Zaldivar and, also, the minister of Culture, Jaime de Aguirre.

Tania Bruguera and Raul Zurita, poet and National Literature Prize in Chile.

She also went on a guided tour of Villa Grimaldi, visited the memorial in memory of the victims of the Degollados Case in Providencia, the Human Rights Institute, the Memorial Museum and the CIMA Gallery.

She also shared with Irina Karamanos in a workshop about extractivism and was with members of the Cubanos Libres Association in Chile.

Yet, one of the most important activities she participated in was in the Art and Architecture auditorium at the Universidad Diego Portales.

“It’s very hard for us Cubans to speak out, because people don’t stand by us, there isn’t any support… And we have a terrifying situation in Cuba right now… We are asking the Left now to help us, because the Right is,” was one of the things that she said at the time, according to El Mercurio newspaper.

Tania Bruguera’s activities in Chile was possible thanks to the support from the Mellon Foundation – via the Proyecto de Futuros Justos N-2009-09221, called “Plunder in the Americas: the extraction of bodies, land and cultural heritage since the Conquest up until the present day,” which is being run by Pensylvania University – and the Chilean Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage.

Photo from Bruguera’s visit to the Cima Gallery


The reality is that amidst this controversy, Bruguera received support from artists and academics in favor of her exhibition. According to Pablo Chiuminatto, an academica at UC and visual artist, Tania Bruguera’s case at Salvador Allende Museum of Solidarity is an example of what art can achieve: “Opening up borders, broadening perspectives.” In this regard, he said that “I don’t think it’s right to reduce her work, that is internationally renowned, to an anti-Cuban stance today, over 60 years since the Revolution began. Her work is so much more and the museum is much more than a space to unwaveringly hold onto Salvador Allende’s stance and line of thinking about the revolution in Cuba,” explaining that “just like multicultural integration, it’s essential to create spaces of meeting points and critical differences for the future of Chile. This is the only way that dialogue can be the way forward, and not depreciation, or denial,” he stressed.

Arturo Duclos, president of Crea Imagen also said something in the same vein: “In my opinion, Tania Bruguera is an extremely important artist, a model, without doubt today, within the contemporary art world. The fact she’s an artist who opposes the Cuban Revolution? Well, I believe that any artist that values their freedom of action and thought will always oppose regimes that are absolutist or are dictatorships or not very democratic, don’t you think? I don’t think it’s such a big problem for her to oppose the Cuban Government under these circumstances,” he said.


Despite this, both Chellew and Duclos voiced their doubts about the context. “Maybe this artist’s stay in Chile may be seen as a contradiction, talking with the coup-supporting Right and also exhibiting in a museum forged from the solidarity of artists in favor of the Chilean process,” Chellew said.

Meanwhile, Duclos pointed out that “the strangest thing is that the exhibition will be held at the Salvador Allende Museum, which of course, is a museum that is somehow also linked to this Revolution in its conception. Thus, it’s a contradiction, both for her and the museum, especially now thinking about the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the coup, so I believe it’s unfortunate that she is coming to exhibit her work within this framework.” He also said that “maybe if she were exhibiting in two years from now, or beforehand, she wouldn’t have come under the scrutiny she’s being subjected to today in the press, which is trying to take advantage of the situation, and I think it’s a good thing that these cultural issues are being taken advantage of and exposed. But of course, there is a slight flaw. I believe that this is where they have failed, in the museum’s program, because like I said, she’s an incomparable artist and an artist who should be exhibiting her work in the Fine Arts Museum, anywhere else, no? Thus, I find it contradictory, from this point of view, that she’s holding an exhibition in a place that, of course, is the Salvador Allende Museum, don’t you think? If she is an anti-revolutionary.” Although he went on to say “I’m not so sure she’s anti-revolutionary. I believe she is a critical artist.”


The museum’s director, Claudia Zaldivar, insisted that the Salvador Allende Museum of Solidarity has a “lifelong” commitment to art and politics and that Bruguera “is one of the artists that has always captured our attention, with her work, her body of work, which is extremely deep, dense and this work regarding power and social control,” she said.

Zaldivar also argued that the museum is working “on the subject of what was lost in Chile with the coup d’etat, the way this transformation movement since the ‘60s in Chile splintered, and how, when a coup occurs, this movement shatters completely and all of this super positive energy is lost. This is what we are working on, based on the principles of the progressive left and this is our research,” she said.

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