The forbidden voice

Speaking up, expressing your feelings, thoughts and ideas. We all do it each day. How far we can go is often clear. You can sense it, most of the times. We cherish this liberation of our voice even though it has its limits naturally. This very notion of freedom of speech is at this moment a current topic and is under discussion. The events at the beginning of January in the French capital showed the sensitive and delicate side and effect of the endless will of many to speak up, whether this is justified or not, the right way or the wrong way. Not only perceptible in journalism it was also present in the visual arts. The Cuban artist Tania Bruguera (1968) has been confronted with the restrictions of freedom of speech in her native country, Cuba. In her attempt to stage an old performance related to free speech the artist was arrested and detained on multiple occasions by the Cuban government at the end of December 2014. It also led to the detention of other cultural figures and activists.

This unfortunate event was about the performance Tatlin’s Whisper #6. This piece consists of a podium and a microphone where individuals from the public are invited and allowed to express themselves for 1 minute each. This performance has been staged before in Havana during the Havana Biennial of 2009. Surprising is the fact that, at that time, the performance took place without incidents.

The only difference with the version of 2009 is the location, this edition was meant to be staged at the capital’s iconic Revolution Square. The timing was also crucial, following the news of the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, a historic announcement.

Nevertheless the artist was denied permission to restage Tatlin’s Whisper #6. Bruguera was not deterred, she persisted and announced that the performance would continue as planned. A couple of hours before it was scheduled, Bruguera was picked up by state security agents. Probably scared of what the performance would elicit, the government took no risks and took serious actions.

The voice of individuals were forbidden, the limits of speech reached. The discussions on this very subject from the different parties involved reveal ironically what it tended to prevent, speaking up.

The performance Tatlin’s Whisper #6 during the Havana Biennial in 2009. Courtesy the artist

The performance Tatlin’s Whisper #6 during the Havana Biennial in 2009. Courtesy the artist