To the public opinion

Crosses by Tania Bruguera © MSSA

These crosses were intended to be placed in the public space to mark the houses in Barrio República that were occupied during the dictatorship by the CNI (Central Nacional de Informaciones). Due to the apprehensions that the exhibition suffered, the project was not realized and today they are exhibited in the exhibition Magnitud 11.9 by the artist Tania Bruguera. © MSSA

26 October 2023

The Museum Watch Committee has been paying close attention to the current situation regarding the exhibition of the artist Tania Bruguera at the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende (MSSA) in Santiago, Chile. The MSSA was founded 1971 as a cultural public institution developed by the renowned Brazilian art critic Mario Pedrosa, and as part of the cultural and political project of President Salvador Allende and the Unidad Popular in the Republic of Chile. The Museum’s mandate was to build an international art collection made of donations from artists worldwide to the people of Chile. Hundreds of artists participated in this initiative. After the military coup in 1973, the museum continued in exile in different countries, thanks to the support and solidarity of many people around the globe. It became a symbol of resistance against the dictatorship. In 1991, the MSSA reopened its doors to the public after the return to democracy as a publicly funded and a combined governing body (the museum, the federal government and the Fundación Salvador Allende). Since then, MSSA has launched many relevant programs to reconstruct the history of the institution through archival research and by means of preserving, studying and exhibiting the collection. At the same time, in its recent history, it has developed a wide program including contemporary art exhibitions, portraying the work of both Chilean and international artists. Nowadays, the MSSA is a renowned institution in the international contemporary art field. The museum’s unique approach and dedication to researching its history has gained international recognition.

The Cuban artist and human rights activist, Tania Bruguera, was invited by MSSA for a one-month residency in June 2023 in preparation of an exhibition that was initially scheduled to open at the MSSA in early September this year, as part of a wider program in the context of the 50th anniversary of the military coup. According to MSSA’s website on the exhibition: “For years the artist has had to explain the importance of the political context in which many of her works emerge. This is how she came to the concept of Art in Synchrony with Political Timing (Political Timing Specific), a line of research that she began to explore since 2008 and that has transversally crossed her artistic proposals in which she deepens and questions the relationship between power and social controls”.

The exhibition Magnitude 11.9, at the Museo de la Solidaridad Salvador Allende (MSSA) was displayed on this axis. According to MSSA’s website, this exhibition was curated by Joselyne Contreras Cerda in collaboration with the MSSA team, and was built from the artist's research that delves into one of the “greatest challenges of the present: democracy and its fragility.”

Crosses_Tania Bruguera_02
Crosses by Tania Bruguera © MSSA

While the artist was undergoing research in the country, starting July, several persons conducted a social media campaign, accompanied by public demonstrations, expressing their opposition to the artist and the exhibition. They demanded the cancellation of the exhibition, arguing that the presence of Tania Bruguera, whose opinions against the Cuban regime are well known, was a betrayal of Salvador Allende's’ socialist ideology. In particular, the protests against the artist stemmed from her critique of the close relationship between the former president Salvador Allende and the Cuban regime at the beginning of the seventies that led to the exile of many Chilean people seeking to escape political persecution under dictatorship.

On October 8, the exhibition finally opened to the public at the MSSA. The artist and the curator decided to modify the contents of the project in order to open up the space for conversation addressing the controversy by creating a space of mediation where the public could express by responding to the question, “Which are the artworks that the artist should have done to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the military coup?

The Museum Watch Committee would like to express its support to the MSSA and its director, Claudia Zaldivar, and to congratulate the artist and the institution for their productive and critical response to the controversy surrounding the exhibition. Freedom of expression and speech for artistic projects are basic principles and a necessary working frame for cultural institutions. It guarantees artistic freedom, even when the institution does not necessarily support or agree with the position taken by an artist or an artistic project. In this case, cultural institutions should find a space of dialogue and mediation, especially in the context of social polarization, to tackle and prevent the authoritarian claim of censorship and surveillance of art and other cultural expressions. Nowadays, museums have a social responsibility to preserve the possibility of dissent and to be safe places for having controversial or even difficult conversations under a frame of respect and common values, such as promoting diversity, inclusion, and human rights.

In representation of the CIMAM Museum Watch Committee integrated by:

  • Zeina Arida, Director, Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Doha, Qatar
  • Bart De Baere, (Chair) Director, M HKA Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp, Belgium
  • Amanda de la Garza, Director, Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC), Mexico City, Mexico
  • Malgorzata Ludwisiak, Artistic Director, The Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Warsaw, Poland
  • Victoria Noorthoorn, Director, Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Agustin Perez Rubio, Independent Curator, Madrid, Spain
  • Kitty Scott, Independent Curator, Toronto, Canada
  • Yu Jin Seng, Deputy Director (Curatorial & Research), National Gallery Singapore, Singapore

CIMAM – International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art – is an Affiliated Organization of ICOM.