“Totalitarianism appeals to the very dangerous emotional needs of those who live in isolation and in fear of the other.”.
The Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism (INSTAR) is a living organism: it breathes, feels, reacts and has memory. This website is intended to showcase our projects, in the hope that our actions define who we are and what we want. .
INSTAR came to be thanks to a collective impulse. The commitment of our 915 founders and our current reality served as motivations as we went through difficult times.
Since its inception INSTAR has been a democratic and horizontal space, where decisions are made by consensus. We are interested in defending social justice and human rights, sometimes alien to the Cuban context, such as respect for freedom of expression; fair wages; support for working mothers, independent initiatives, and artists; the recovery of artistic historical memory and independent civil society; and building projects with people who think differently, but who want to make a country for all.
We believe that civic education is the answer to political violence, that culture is the foundation from which to build a better citizenship, and that institutional transparency is a duty and a right. INSTAR is a safe space that indirectly protects other organizations, activists, and artists.
Anyone who has been involved in a similar project knows that its growth and successes are due to those who have given their time and energy as a team. I want to thank all those who have been part of the INSTAR core (in chronological order) Deborah Bruguera, Clara Astiasarán, Valia Garzón, Miguel Lara Hidalgo, Carla Kasumi, Vered Engelhard, Dean Luis Reyes, Marta María Ramírez, Ricardo Figueredo, Camila Lobón, Juliana Rabelo, Lynn Cruz, Gretell Kairús, William Iglesias Puig, Omara Ruiz Urquiola, Jorge Enrique Rodríguez Camejo, Fabiana Salgado, Ezequiel Rodríguez Crespo, Claudia Patricia Pérez Olivera, Yanelys Matienzo, Aminta D'Cárdenas and all the collaborators who gave us advice and constructive criticism along the way and shed light on our work. We give thanks to our followers, already friends of INSTAR, and to those who have accepted our invitation to begin building the country where we want to live.
Founder and director of INSTAR
On May 20, 2015 at the headquarters of the Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism (INSTAR) located at Tejadillo 214, Habana Vieja, Cuba, Tania Bruguera held a performance that consisted of reading aloud The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, for 100 consecutive hours. The readers sat in an armchair with a microphone and transmitted Arendt’s text through a loudspeaker, which carried into the streets around the house. The doors of the house remained open for almost five days. The event took place in the context of the 12th Havana Biennial. Fifty readers participated and more than 100 people attended, including passers-by, neighbors, students, curators, artists, activists, and the curious, comprising precisely the people with whom INSTAR aspires to work. R.
Some of those involved were unfamiliar with Hannah Arendt’s work, and unaware of what performance or artivism is. Arendt’s work is not part of the curriculum in the Cuban educational system, and is only known by a small group of scholars and intellectuals. Likewise, there is a tradition of performance in Cuba, but it is only a practice known to artists. Activists are often unfamiliar with the concept of artivism, which is a neologism formed by the union of the words: art and activism. Artivism assumes that art has a social responsibility to its context and that activism is not limited to repeating the same slogans or tactics, rather proposing creative and novel options. These three elements constitute the referential, conceptual, and operational basis of the Institute and its identity.
GENERAL MOTIVATIONS OF THE FOUNDER
On December 17, 2014, Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. This news shocked Cubans. Tania and Deborah Bruguera’s reaction was to write a letter where they asked questions to the Cuban president about what this new decision—which had ended, without explanation, a policy of his own government that affected the lives of all Cubans—meant in practice. This document was published on Facebook. In less than a week, more than 20,000 Cubans living all over the world and with dissimilar political positions joined an unprecedented dialogue that has taken place in recent years on the future of Cuba.
At that time neither the Internet nor Facebook were accessible or popular in Cuba, which is why the idea was to create a physical space so that Cubans on the island could take part in the dialogue under the same conditions of freedom of expression enjoyed by those who had the virtuality of social networks. An earlier and already known work by Tania Bruguera, “El susurro de Tatlin #6,” was used as a reference to operate in the public space in Cuba. As the referents were of collective domain, the public appropriated the participatory sequence. The overall project contained both physical and virtual aspects and was named #YoTambienExijo (#YTE). #YTE consisted of installing a microphone in the Plaza de la Revolución, a contentious site in Cuban history, so that people could express their longing for a future Cuba, for one minute each.
This essentially inclusive performance was not accepted by the government and, as a consequence, more than 83 people were detained, including Tania herself. The government did not recognize that it was a citizen and civic initiative in response to the situation of change that was brewing. Tania Bruguera’s passport, including all travel permissions therein, was confiscated. She was forbidden to leave the city and was under constant surveillance. After nine months, all legal charges were dropped for lack of evidence, with the warning not to repeat the performance.
In the more than 30 interrogations to which Tania was subjected, a consistent element was that, in order to carry out their questioning, State Security agents first had to understand her artistic references. A revealing moment was when they made reference to Vladimir Tatlin, and the interrogator recited from memory the biography of the Russian architect and artist, available on Wikipedia. From this came the idea to produce works that, in order to be questioned and censored by the authorities, would force officials and officers in charge of censorship to study.
For the Institute’s first exercise, the reading of Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism was selected, using artivism as a civic didactic means with the aim of avoiding the violence generated by misunderstanding and ignorance. The response to this event was as unexpected as it was interesting, the government decided to divert a public works brigade working in Old Havana to tear up the concrete in the street in front of her entranceway with jackhammers, whose noise made it difficult to hear the reading. But, they had not anticipated the silence during the workers’ lunch hour, a time that was used to read the text to those workers, or that the brigade would leave at 5 p.m.; the reading resumed in the early hours of the morning. This marked our identity: to try to generate different responses from the government, and functional interstices to our creative response.
After that event, we thought that it was a good idea not to leave these experiences as isolated events, but to turn them into a sustained effort for civic education that, through art and activism, would turn desires and ideas into actions; and with that, create a new non-violent vocabulary for public space in an inevitable transition. The idea was to create an institution in response to the existing ones’ lack of civic character in Cuba, generating a nonviolent platform for dialogue.
There had already been a previous project of a pedagogical nature, the Cátedra Arte de Conducta (Behavior Art School, 2003–2009), which we reaffirmed as a precedent. Some young artists asked when the School would be reopened, and Bruguera decided to update the experience in terms of urgencies and absences to which a project of this nature responds, but also in terms of access and participation. The resulting Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism—INSTAR for its acronym, which is also a transitive verb in Spanish meaning to instigate—is a call to action in the face of urgency, using civic education based in art, and containing the energetic force behind another verb: (em)power.