Tania Bruguera Manifesto on Artists’ Rights

Art is not a luxury. Art is a basic social need to which everyone has a right.

Art is a way to build thinking, of being aware of oneself and of the others at the same time. It is a methodology for the search of a here and now in constant transformation.

Art is an invitation to question; it is the social place of doubt, of wanting to understand and of wanting to change reality.

Art is not only a statement of the present, it is also a call for a better future. Therefore, it is a right not only to enjoy art, but to be able to create it.

Art is a common good that does not have to be understood in its totality.

Art is a space of vulnerability from which what is social is deconstructed to construct what is human.

Artists not only have the right to disagree, but the duty to do so.

Artists have the right to disagree not only with affective, moral, philosophical, or cultural aspects, but also with economic and political ones.

Artists have the right to disagree with power, with the status quo.

Artists have the right to be respected and protected when they dissent.

The governments of nations in which artists work have the obligation of protecting the right of artists to dissent because that is their social function: to question and address what otherwise is too sensitive to confront.

Artists also have the right to be understood in the complexity of their disagreement. Artists should not be judged but discussed. And certainly artists should not be put in jail for proposing an “other” reality, for sharing their ideas, for wanting to strike up a conversation on the way the present unfolds. If the artist proposal is not understood, it should be discussed by all, not censored by a few.

Governments, corporations, and religious institutions too easily declare, if one publicly expresses and manifests differently from those in power, that one is irresponsible, wanting to use guilt and incite the masses to violent reactions as their best defense strategy instead of processing criticism and making a call for public debate. There is nothing that justifies the use of violence against an idea or the person that proposes it.

Governments have the duty to provide a space for self -criticism in which they are accountable for their actions, a space where the people can question them. No government is infallible; no human being—even if elected—has the right to talk for all citizens. No social solution is permanent and artists have the opportunity and the duty to propose the imaginary of other social alternatives, of using their communication tools from a space of sensitive responsibility.

Governments must stop fearing ideas.

Governments, corporations (contemporary alternative governments), and religious institutions are not the only ones with a right to build a future; this is the right of citizens, and artists are active citizens. That is why artists have the right and the responsibility not only to think up a different and better world, but to try to build it.

Artists have the right to be artivists (part artists/part activists), because they are an active part of civil society, because art is a safe space from which people can debate, interpret, construct, and educate. And this space must be defended because it benefits all; art is a social tool.

Governments should not control art and artists. They should protect them.

Artists have the right to create the work they want to create, with no limits; they have the duty to be responsible without self-censure.

Society has the right for public spaces to be spaces for creativity and artistic expression, since they also are collective spaces for knowledge and debate. Public space belongs to civic society, not to governments, corporations, or religious institutions.

Freedom of artistic expression does not emerge spontaneously; it is something one learns to reach by leaving behind pressure, emotional blackmail, censorship, and self-censorship. This is a difficult process that should be respected and appreciated.

Artistic censorship not only affects artists but also the communities they inhabit. It creates fear and self-censorship in them. It paralyzes the possibility to exercise critical thinking.

Art is a complex product without one single and final interpretation. Artists have the right to not have their oeuvre reduced or simplified as a schematic that can be manipulated by those in power to consequently result in public offenses they can direct to the artists so as to invalidate their proposals.

The right to decide the value of an artistic statement is not a right of those in power. It is not the right of governments, or corporations, or religious institutions to define what art is. It is the right of the artists to define what art is for them.

In order to create a space for dialogue and the protection of works of art that question established ideas and realities, governments should provide educational platforms from which artistic practice may be better understood.

In moments of high sensitivity (wars, legislative changes, political transitions), it is the duty of the government to protect and guarantee dissident, questioning voices because these are moments in which one cannot do away with rationality and critical thought and it is sometimes only through art that some ideas can emerge and make a public appearance. Without dissent there is no chance for progress.

Socially and politically committed artists talk about difficult moments, deal with sensitive topics, but, unlike journalists, they have no legal protection when doing their work. Unlike corporations, they have no significant economic backing. Unlike governments, they have no political power. Art is a social work based on a practice that makes artists vulnerable and—as is the case with journalists, corporations, and governmental or religious institutions—artists have the right to be protected because they are doing a public service.

We must be cautious of the increasing criminalization of socially committed artistic creation and the rationale of national security used to censure artists who dissent.

Many types of strategies are used for political censorship: direct political pressure on the artist; not accessing economic support; bureaucratic censorship that postpones production processes and marginalizes visibility by drawing artists away from circuits of legitimization and distribution; control of the right to travel. Sometimes “popular sensibility” is used as censorship, but all are a centralized decision for power not to be challenged.

On the other hand, there are artists who are internationally acknowledged and admired for being artivists in their countries of origin and who, at a given time, for one reason or another, migrate and establish themselves temporarily in other countries where they find a new type of censorship, a censorship that relegates, pigeonholes, and sets them inside a limited mental geography where they are only allowed to talk critically of the country they come from and not the country to which they have arrived. This is a situation of censorship where artists are relegated to being unidimensionally political: as political objects of use.

The process of discovering a different society, the inner negotiation one requires to understand the place to which one has arrived and the place one has left, is inherent in the contemporary condition, which is increasingly a migrant condition. This is a condition that artists embody and that they have the right to express. A national culture is the hybridization of the image those who do not live in the country have of it, as well as the one built by all of those present, day by day, in the place, no matter where they have come from before.

We cannot ask artists, whose work is to question society, to keep silent and resort to self-censure once they cross a territorial border.

Artists have the right not to be fragmented as human beings or as social beings.

Artistic expression is a space to challenge meanings, to defy what is imaginable. This is what, as times goes by, is recognized as culture.

A society with freedom of artistic expression is a healthier society. It is a society where citizens are allowed to dream of a better world where they have a place. It is a society that expresses itself better, because it expresses itself in its entire complexity.

There is no other type of practice in the public sphere providing the qualities of the space created by art; that is why this space must be protected.

Governments have the duty to protect all their citizens, including those who may be considered uncomfortable because they question government and what is socially established.

Critical thinking is a civic right that becomes evident in artistic practices. Therefore, when this is threatened we should not talk of censorship, but of the violation of artists’ rights.

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