Cuban artist Tania Bruguera has spent her career commenting on institutional power, borders, and migration, with work in the media of installation, performance, film, and sculpture. Her recent installation in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall discusses the multifaceted issue of migration.
Bruguera has taken over the space with a dark black aesthetic, made up of floor tiles reminiscent of tar or oil. A small section of the floor furthest away from the entrance has not been given a shiny finish. This area is body heat sensitive, and upon multiple visitors touching it reveals the portrait of a young Syrian migrant named Yousef.
Through the en masse use of human touch to reveal this man, Bruguera has commented on the necessity to interact on a physical level in a large group in order to expose the secluded members of our society and strive toward a more integrated community. However, it is the context in which Yousef was chosen to be portrayed that is of particular interest to the work.
Yousef moved to SE1 from Syria in 2011, where he subsequently found emotional and practical support through a local charity called SE1 United. This charity has links to the Tate Neighbours project, through the work of Natalie Bell. Tate Neighbours is a group of people who live or work in SE1, who actively seek to consolidate welfare disparities within the local community by working with international institutions like the Tate Modern.
Upon connecting to the Tate Modern’s WiFi, the Tate Neighbours manifesto pops-up. The emphasis on building a community based on a collective dialogue of safety, inclusiveness, responsibility, and care, corresponds greatly with Bruguera’s work. The “unsettling low-frequency sound” of sonic vibrations, designed by musician and DJ Steve Goodman, is drowned out by the sound of families laughing and playing in the space.
Through Bruguera’s exploration of the positive and negative consequences of migration, she has harboured a safe, communal space which allows and encourages discussion, on all levels, of the very relevant issue of migration. This microcosm fulfils the mission stated in the Tate Neighbours manifesto of creating a “prejudice-free zone, a sanctuary for all”, giving a local project, an international platform.
Tate Neighbours Manifesto:
“We, the Neighbours of Tate Modern, believe in a culture of connection, where ‘we’ is used instead of ‘us and them’. A culture where everyone is accountable to each other while creating and sustaining a safe and open space to be together. A prejudice-free zone, a sanctuary for all.
We are committed to building a common language of civic responsibility and selfless actions to care for one another.
We all have some responsibility for the poor treatment of people around us and the hierarchies of power that divide us.
We advocate for the right for all to be different but equal.
We believe that oppressed communities contribute culturally, socially and politically to the betterment of all. In times when thoughts and words are not enough, actions must become our common language.