Cuban artist Tania Bruguera was among a dozen women artists, writers, and curators to speak at a day-long symposium at the Museum of Modern Art on Friday, May 21.

Titled “Art Institutions and Feminist Politics Now,” the international conference marked the publication of Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art, a 500-page volume containing more than 50 essays. Both the book and the symposium are part of an ongoing MoMA-wide initiative, begun in 2005, to explore the museum’s collection and exhibition practices from the perspective of gender. The symposium drew an audience of more than 200, primarily women.

Speaking in the afternoon session, “Pedagogy and Activism,” Bruguera discussed her artmaking practice, feminism, and teaching. “I teach too much,” she said with a laugh, “and in too many places.” She has a point: in addition to being an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, Bruguera is a visiting professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and at IUAV in Venice. She is also the founder and director of Arte de Conducta, an art school hosted by the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana.

“I decided that I was going to use my classes as a playground for questions more than answers,” she explained, “and also as a reaction to the context I’m teaching in. For example, when I teach in the United States, one of the things I do is very simple: None of the artists I show in my classes is American,” because students in the U.S. are already “saturated” with American art and artists. “What they need to know are the other ones,” she said. “But I present them not as ‘the other ones.’ I present them as great, amazing artists they should know about. To me, that’s a very important difference.”

Basically, said Bruguera, “I try to ask what art is. This is the question I ask when I teach.”

In setting up the school in Cuba, Bruguera said, “I was trying to discover what the differences were between universal art and national art and local artists and how to work with them.” In establishing the school, she was careful not to set quotas—“one black, one woman, nothing like that.” Even so, she says, “half of my school was female. It just happened like that. Because it was felt that they could come, they could just come, and they would be received. And I tried to create a really egalitarian place, where everybody has the same chances.”

As Bruguera sees it, feminism is playing out differently among younger generations. “It is very important to find ways that the young women can relate and see the new challenges. Because sometimes I think they are not.”

One of the problems, she noted, is that “It is not cool to be a feminist. Like it is not cool to be an activist, or to do anything that entails creating an uncomfortable feeling toward the establishment. Such actions are only praised and loved when time passes, and when people cannot personalize anymore the internal differences in the visions where those events have been generated. For example,” she continued, the artist Hannah Wilke “can be a person to look up to right now, but I’m sure that among the people here, from the old guard, will remember some of the contradictions around her.”

Bruguera’s wryly humorous presentation won appreciative laughter from attendees, especially her tongue-in-cheek observations on the perils of sleeping with curators. Noting that the conversation about feminism “is still a closed discussion,” she ended her presentation with a request for a show of hands. “I would like to ask all the men in the room to raise their hands,” she asked. Seeing a few scattered hands, she went on: “the men who are not gay…the men who did not work on the Modern Women catalogue…” As the raised hands started disappearing amid audience laughter, Bruguera nodded. “Okay,” she said, “I think I have made my point. I have illustrated the point I am at this moment in my work, as a woman artist—which is to aspire to the development of the feminist man.”