Appropriation Does Not Equal Art

                                                                          Photo: James Estrin/The New York Times

So this popped up on my twitter feed yesterday. Lordy Loo.

First of all – when will The New York Times take a stand and not use the term “illegal?” For another day, peeps, for another day.

Nevertheless, the artist Tania Bruguera now lives with undocumented people.

Cue the dramatic music.

And she was given around $85,000 for this artistic foray into the outer borough of Queens, NY.  

“She has not fallen on hard times. Ms. Bruguera is performing a yearlong art piece meant to improve the image of immigrants and highlight their plight. And she is bringing her high-concept brand of provocation to a low-wattage precinct of taco stands and auto-body shops, where the neighbors have responded with varying degrees of curiosity, amusement and befuddlement.

…Ms. Bruguera (pronounced brew-GAIR-a) has turned the space, a former beauty supply store, into the headquarters for her new advocacy group-cum-art project, Immigrant Movement International, using about $85,000 from Creative Time, a nonprofit arts group, and the Queens Museum of Art. 

She seeks to blend politics and art to empower immigrants through English classes, legal help and impromptu performances. She has held workshops to write slogans — like “I am today what your grandparents were yesterday” — that she plans to print on bumper stickers and T-shirts. And she intends to live like her working-class Latino neighbors; she has vowed not to tap her credit cards, personal bank account or assistants in Italy and Cuba. 

“I don’t want to hear things in the office — I want to live them,” said Ms. Bruguera, 43, who is from Cuba but spent the last year in Paris. “I want to have the anxiety.” 

She added, “Those are things I have to feel on my skin.” 

As someone who also identifies as an artist and performer, I’d like to tell Ms. Bruguera that there are some things that you are never going to feel on your skin. No matter how much you may try.

What is it with the incessant need of US-based artists to suck up the experiences of others like a high-end vacuum cleaner?

Privileges of all kinds are powerful and permanent buffers. Lack of privileges of all kinds creates serious vulnerability to being preyed upon in the name of, “Art.”

You either learn those hard lessons as an artist, or you inappropriately appropriate in the name of, “Art.”

“Her roommates, especially an out-of-work Ecuadorean laborer, do not know what to make of her. “I explained to them four times what I’m doing already,” she said. “They don’t get it. They’re not very excited.”

You know what? Ms. Bruguera’s roommates are right on the money.

And by using “they” and “them” when talking about undocumented immigrants, Ms. Bruguera showed me all that I need to know about her as a person, and as an artist.

How telling the image of that first photo of the article – Ms. Bruguera unnecessarily in the center, literally stepping anywhere she pleases.


8 thoughts on “Appropriation Does Not Equal Art

  1. "Being able to hit the eject button at any time changes the experience in a dramatic way."You better believe it. Except it doesn't merely change the experience so much as kill it outright.I particularly liked the photo close up of her smirking in her sunglasses. That spoke volumes: the Lady of the Manor observing the natives. Nice.I'm all for art, I'm down with making a statement, I'm entirely good with drawing attention to an issue, but this is exploitation, pure and simple. Gah.


  2. @tellthejourney-Txs for your comments:) Saludos, TDW@Laura Thanks for posting your comments. I too had an extremely privileged upbringing compared to my husband. I understand what you mean about narratives naturally overlapping each other. However, the difference is…he's your husband. You've put in the time to gain his trust, and vice versa. You come from a place of integrity and dignity with each other. I'm talking about when so-called "artists" blow into a situation without doing critical analysis about their social position. There's no analysis about their areas of privilege. I don't feel that Bruguera is trying to understand an undocumented immigrant's plight on any level. I feel that that her comments and actions reveal the publicity-stunt nature of her project. I don't feel that she comes from a place of integrity at all. Art that challenges pre-conceived notions about immigration is necessary and welcomed by me. But art that is all about the artist supposedly speaking for the "undocumented voiceless" gets me growling. And while I hear what you're saying about "any press that's not negative" is good press, I'd challenge you to think about whose agenda is forwarded by that article, whose voice speaks loudest in that article? Because in my opinion, it is certainly not that of the undocumented immigrants in Corona.Again, thanks for taking the time to dialogue:)Saludos, TDW


  3. A thought-provoking post. I had read this article on the other day and read your post today. On the one hand I can appreciate the absurdity of trying to experience firsthand what you really cannot experience firsthand. On the other hand, I generally appreciate any press about immigration that isn't outright negative or hateful. In my experience immigration issues-good, bad or neutral-are so off the radar of most US citizens, it's sad.I do think that there has to be some appreciation for someone at least *trying* to understand on a deeper level. Compared to my Mexican husband, I had a privileged and protected upbringing – does that mean that his experience and history can never become part of my own personal narrative and life experience, simply because I did not experience in firsthand? It affects me too, though obviously not in the same way and probably with a reduced intensity.


  4. "I am today what your grandparents were yesterday." Oh. My. God. There's a ton of wrong in what this person's saying, but that stupid little slogan sums it all up for me. Her limited (to be kind) point of view, her finger-wagging moralism…


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