Artist Tania Bruguera Causes Controversy With “Cocaine Performance”

September 18, 2009 · Print This Article

Artnet News reported yesterday on the controversy kicked up by Cuban artist (and University of Chicago faculty member) Tania Bruguera, whose performance on Aug. 27 at the Facultad de Bellas Artes at the Universidad Nacional de Columbia in Bogota caused an uproar. As part of a larger piece dealing with Columbian history and politics, Bruguera offered lines of cocaine to her audience, some of whom took the bait and consumed what turned out to be authentic (and, apparently, “good stuff” according to those audience member who partook). Here’s an excerpt from Artnet’s story:

Bruguera’s performance, which took place on Aug. 27 at an auditorium of the Facultad de Bellas Artes at the Universidad Nacional, drew enough of a crowd that it was transmitted outside to spectators via a large screen. According to various accounts, it began with three figures — representing, the artist said, a right-wing paramilitary fighter, a left-wing guerrilla and a refugee displaced by the long-running conflict in Colombia — all speaking simultaneously into a microphone. However, whatever they were trying to communicate was overshadowed when the second part of the show began, with an assistant wading into the crowd carrying a tray laden with lines of coke, presenting it for the audience’s consumption.

Reactions at the time were mixed. According to a student who was present, writing in El Tiempo, at first the event was assumed to be a joke, until several members tested the drug, and proclaimed it to be “good stuff.” At this point, some spectators joined the festivities, and others walked out (mainly the older crowd seated up front, El Tiempo’s correspondent says). Some audience members warned those who were doing the drugs that they were participating in illegal activity, while others continued to try and watch the stage action. Following the commotion, Bruguera herself took the stage, thanking her Colombian audience and exiting. And according to reports, the police were called.

Artnet also links to a YouTube clip of Bruguera responding to critics at a panel after the performance, which I’m including directly below for you Spanish speakers and body-language readers. The clip shows an angry audience member who, according to Artnet, describes herself as an “activist, journalist, artist and direct victim of the violence” and vehemently criticizes the piece for its superficiality.

Bruguera was part of the MCA Chicago’s “Diversity and Contemporary Art” panel that took place a few weeks ago on September 9th. I wasn’t able to make it – but I’m curious if this particular performance was brought up at all during the discussion. Did any of you reading this attend? For that matter, if you happened to have been present at Bruguera’s performance in Columbia, by all means let us know what you thought of it in the comments. We’re trying to reach Ms. Bruguera directly to get the artists’ side of the story, and will keep you posted.

One Response to “Artist Tania Bruguera Causes Controversy With “Cocaine Performance””

  1. I just read about this. I think artists don’t always have a solid understanding of what is going to attract the press. Of all the elements in that performance, she’s saddened that the coke part got all the press. She needs to familiarize herself with the term “hook”.

    But that’s why getting press can be so easy if that’s your only goal. I’m not saying it’s her goal, but I’m saying you could reverse-engineer art that causes a scandal.

    Why is a Colombian dating banner site coming up right now? Is it something we said?

    K

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