Over the past week, Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera has been arrested in Havana and released hours later, and given back her passport, which the Cuban government confiscated six months ago after she staged a protest performance piece in Havana. And now Bruguera has been named the first artist-in-residence in the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), the Department of Cultural Affairs and MOIA announced earlier tonight.
Funded by the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, the MOIA artist-in-residence program is intended to use art to call attention to the benefits available for registered immigrants living in New York City. Most notably, immigrants who register with the city receive a municipal ID card, which entitles any owner to discounts at cultural institutions across New York City. Other benefits include the ability to use the ID as a library card, discounts on prescription medicine at most drug stores, and savings on YMCA memberships.
Set to begin her one-year residency later this month, Bruguera will continue her interest in what she calls arte útil (“useful art” in Spanish), or art with a social-activist edge. (An exact start date was not given because Bruguera will not leave Cuba until she receives confirmation from the Cuban government that she can return, although a guarantee is expected within the coming two weeks.) The work intended for her residency will involve teaming up with the Immigrant Monument International (IM International), which she started, in 2011, in collaboration with the Queens Museum and Creative Time. Based in Corona, Queens, the IM International offers health and legal service to immigrants, free of charge. Specifically, the work made for her residency will involve using the IM International as a way of educating immigrants about New York City’s municipal ID program, IDNYC. Bruguera plans to target areas with large immigrant populations.
“This project provides a unique opportunity to enhance the notion of art as a useful tool to materialize a vision of a more inclusive society,” Bruguera said in a statement. “I’m excited to explore new ways of collaborating with New York’s immigrant communities to make a real impact on the lives of city residents.”
Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl shared Bruguera’s excitement. “I have been inspired by Tania Bruguera’s vision for art as something that can propose real, tangible solutions for the people involved since I met her 15 years ago,” Finkelpearl said in a statement. “I am enormously excited to support her work that uses art to forge a new model for enhancing our public services through creative practice.”
The announcement for the artist-in-residence program also revealed that the Museum of Modern Art had acquired its first work by Bruguera—Untitled (Havana, 2000), a large-scale installation that combines performance and video. First shown at the 2000 Havana Biennial, the work, like many others by Bruguera, deals with liberty and authority.