El Cuerpo del Silencio (The Body of Silence) is a performance by artist Tania Bruguera. Based in USA, but born in Cuba and raised overseas because of her father’s job as ambassador, the artist’s practice is often inspired by her native country. In El Cuerpo del Silencio she performed in a room covered by lamb meet. The work is divided in two parts. Firstly, holding a green felt-tip marker the artist corrects the official book of Cuban history. In the second part, she licks her own writing off the pages, until nearly chewing the book.
In this work Bruguera commits an act of self-censorship. As her truth cannot be acknowledged, or made public, she ingests it, in a bid to internalise it or perhaps forget it. Naked in a cave-like room, Bruguera is acting from within a body, an organism’s cavity made out of flesh. From this place, in turn, the artist stages a performance of introspection and incorporation.
Left in contemplation of the artist’s final act – licking and the compulsion to devour – the viewer can establish a tacit understanding with the artist. It is silence, though, that the audience is immerse in – the unspoken, the forbidden. And silence, as the artist revealed in an interview with Yolanda Wood in 2000, is an obsession of her, something ‘fundamental’ to her performances.
As Wood points out, this stress on silence within Bruguera’s practice is in contradiction to her attempts at communicating. However, it is a way of focusing on the body and the capacity of incorporating information. In El Cuerpo del Silencio this strategy calls into question all the different voices that have been silenced, all the people that have been left out of History. As they have been erased, in an attempt to dismiss them, Bruguera’s silence resonates with a more far-reaching truth than her own words. Her silence actually embodies all the people who have not been given a voice and it points to the way History is something that is not only subjective, but also embodied, beyond the text and the confines of the cognitive.
Wood, Y. (2000). La aventura del silencio en Tania Bruguera.Arte Cubano, no.3, Havana, Cuba. Original and English translation available online, on the artist’s website (click here to be redirected).