The Salvador Allende Solidarity Museum (MSSA) in Santiago, Chile, has stirred up controversy after delaying and then modifying an exhibition by Cuban-born artist and Harvard University professor Tania Bruguera.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of dictator Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état in Chile, which culminated in the assassination of the country’s democratically-elected president Salvador Allende in 1973. Bruguera, whose work has often critiqued the Cuban Revolution and government suppression of dissent in general, was due to open her solo exhibition, Magnitud 11.9, at MSSA on 8 September. But a spate of threats on social media and public pushback from a variety of sources, including Allende’s relatives, caused the museum to delay the opening. The show is now open, although one of the central subjects of the display has been suppressed, according to a statement released by the museum.
When the show was announced, Pablo Sepúlveda Allende, grandson of the assassinated president, sent a letter to MSSA requesting its cancellation, followed by a lengthy string of comments on X, formerly Twitter, and an open letter decrying Bruguera’s art practice.
Allende described Bruguera as “an artist who only stands out because her staging is politically contrary to the Cuban Revolution, that same Revolution that both Allende and millions and millions of people in Cuba and around the world admire, defend and love”. Chilean activist Víctor Hugo Robles also attacked Bruguera in a polemic, alleging that she “mobilises money and multinational support for the Cuban opposition and travels the world promoting ‘democracy in Cuba'”.
In an interview with Artnews, Claudia Zaldivar, the director of MSSA, said that “this attempt at cancelling the show comes from a small group that considers Bruguera a dissident of the current Cuban government, transferring a local Cuban problem to Chile”. According to Zalvidar, the Salvador Allende Foundation, one of the institutions that administers the museum, approved the Bruguera show when it was first proposed.
Bruguera, whose art and art actions have long interrogated censorship and what she considers to be authoritarian policies of the Cuban state, has responded by incorporating the criticism she has received into the content of the show. “I decided to make transparent the entire process that the exhibition itself went through, the political tensions, censorship and pressure,” she told Artnews. “This is what I call Arte para un tiempo político determinado (‘Art for a given political time’).”
Magnitud 11.9 builds on Bruguera’s research in Chile earlier this year, during which she visited important sites from various conflicts instigated by the Pinochet dictatorship. The exhibition’s title refers to the date of Allende’s assassination, 11 September 1973. The MSSA press release contends that the show will “delve deeper into the challenges of democracy”.