Midway through the year, migration, immigration, and displacement are emerging as powerful themes for museum exhibitions. As part of the global conversation, Tania Bruguera and other Cuban artists are contributing distinct perspectives on the topic.
On the heels of World Refugee Day—observed last Thursday, June 20—the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, opened The Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement.
Curated by Massimiliano Gioni and Natalie Bell of the New Museum in New York, the exhibition brings together works by some 75 historical and contemporary artists—including Bruguera, whose long-term projects often focus on migration-related themes.
Among Bruguera’s most sustained involvements with migration issues is Immigrant Movement International (2010–2015), a long-term project in the form of an artist-initiated socio-political movement.
Bruguera spent a year running a community space in the multinational and transnational neighborhood of Corona, Queens, which served as the movement’s headquarters. The project continued for several years and still continues in a modified form, with the website maintaining a calendar of current and upcoming community events.
Another project that addresses migration and displacement is The Francis Effect (ongoing). Presented in 2014 as a performance work for the Guggenheim Museum exhibition Under the Same Sun: Art from Latin America Today, it involved Bruguera and her associates attempting to obtain 10,000 signatures asking Pope Francis to grant Vatican City citizenship to immigrants.
“The whole idea is to address the Pope as a head of state, not the head of the Church,” Bruguera said in an exhibition-related discussion at the museum. “These three or four years of working on the [Immigrant Movement International] project have been very frustrating. Transnational corporations have a lot of benefits, but transnational people have a lot of trouble with mobility. This project is basically asking that people receive the same rights that corporations have.”
At the Phillips Collection, The Warmth of Other Suns presents aspects of both Bruguera projects. A vinyl wall text displays the Immingrant Movement International — Migrant Manifesto (2011). Postcards from The Francis Effect are available for visitors to fill in and return.
A month after the Phillips Collection show closes, Bruguera will participate in a second migration-related exhibition: When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration Through Contemporary Art, opening October 23 at the ICA Boston.
There, Bruguera will be one of 20 artists from more than a dozen countries, including Yinka Shonibare, Xiaviera Simmons, and Do-Ho Suh, among others. Bruguera’s work in this show is Dignity Has No Nationality (2017). Made as part of the Creative Time flag project Pledges of Allegiance, Bruguera’s flag depicts the signature image from The Francis Effect.
When Home Won’t Let You Stay runs October 23–January 26 at the ICA Boston.
But Bruguera is not the only Cuban artist whose work addresses issues of migration, immigration, and displacement. At the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, northwest of Detroit, Landlord Colors: On Art, Economy, and Materiality focuses on five art scenes during periods of upheaval—including Cuba since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Bruguera is among the ten Cuban artists featured in the exhibition, but much of the spotlight falls on Reynier Leyva Novo, whose project, Untitled (Immigrants) (2019), is a wall-sized rag rug, pieced together by a dozen Cuban textile workers, from the clothing of some 80 immigrants, much of it worn while crossing the border.
Cuban artists in Landlord Colors include Belkis Ayón, Yoan Capote, Elizabet Cerviño, Julio Llópiz-Casal, Eduardo Ponjuán, Wilfredo Prieto, Diana Fonseca Quiñones, and Ezequiel O. Suárez. The show, which opened this past Saturday, runs through October 6.
In New York, Juana Valdés is participating in Ghost in the Ghost, a group exhibition exploring Asian femininity in the Western imagination. Her photographs document carefully arranged housewares and craft objects from the 18th-century China trade, exploring materials, textures, and surfaces that reference Asian and African identities. The show opened this past Friday at Tiger Strikes Asteroid New York, where it runs through July 21.
The book Women and Migration: Responses in Art and History includes an essay on Valdés and her art. Written by NYU professor Arlene Dávila, “Making Latinx Art: Juana Valdes at the Crossroads of Latinx and Latin American Art” considers Valdes’s work as part of two geographic and historical traditions. the full book is available for free downloading here. See sample pages here.
From a regional perspective, Valdés is also among the artists in Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago. The exhibition, which debuted in 2017 as part of the Pacific Standard Time initiative, continues its US tour with a stop at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, DE. On view through September 8.
And taking a historical viewpoint, the Paris-based duo Atelier Morales—Cuban artists Juan Luis Morales and Teresa Ayuso—reinterpret one of the world’s most venerable trade routes from a 21st-century perspective. The New Silk Roads: Space, Time and Existence presents a series of lyrical works combining large-scale photographs with drawings and paintings. Covering more than 8,000 miles, the duo’s journey took them through Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and several other countries. Coinciding with the Venice Biennale, The New Silk Roads was organized by Global Forum Resources and is on view at the Palazzo Bembo in Venice through November 24.
AND FINALLY, US COVERAGE OF THE HAVANA BIENNIAL
The 13th Havana Biennial officially closed on May 12, but coverage has been slow to appear in the English-language US media.
Other than the coverage in Cuban Art News, there were few reports while the Biennial was in progress—notably an initial story and follow-up filed by Reuters writer Sarah Marsh.
In mid-June, ArtNews published an appraisal of the event and its international context by writer Ginger Danto. “Will this self-professed ‘Biennale for history,’ so hard-fought by relatively few, fulfill its mission of ‘Rethinking the Future’ while fervently looking to the past as part of the 500th anniversary of Habana?” Danto asks. Read the article here.
One of the most thoughtful discussions of the Biennial was published in the New York Review of Books. Written by Esther Allen, it looks at the event from a variety of perspectives, and spotlights artists, exhibitions, and curators alike. Available online here.
A short article by Amy Zion also appeared last week on the Frieze website—a more cursory overview, but worth a quick read. Available here.
For more on the Biennial see our on-the-ground coverage, which started last January with a “First Look” and has continued with—among other articles—a report on the Biennial in Matanzas, a look at women curators, and last week’s walk-through of Nada Personal at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.
Up next: A close look at the two Museo Nacional exhibitions that the New York Review of Books called “the nucleus of the thirteenth Bienal.”