Renowned Cuban artist Tania Bruguera surprised a Bogota audience in September when she lined up three people directly involved in the Colombian conflict for a chat. The real performance however, started when a waitress emerged with a tray of neatly organised lines of cocaine, and began offering them to members of the audience.

The guests on stage are a former guerrilla, a former paramilitary, and a victim of displacement.

Extract of a video posted on YouTube by "jepenuala".

“Artists have a poetic license to throw gunpowder. But then what? You can’t just leave it there”

Sylvia Jaimes is a visual artist in Bogota who attended the performance.

Around 200 people were packed in the venue while some 800 waited outside, hoping to get in.

After the guests began to talk a waitress started walking around with cocaine, as if she were offering wine or snacks. Some people looked pretty surprised. I heard a few exclamations like ‘God, what is going on here?!' Others looked more at ease and a few took advantage of the offer. Not many really, maybe ten or twenty. Then there were those who were visibly outraged. The three guests were still speaking, but nobody seemed to be listening anymore.

The entire scene had a very strange resemblance to a cocktail party. Everyone was waiting nervously for something to happen on stage. Very few were aware that what was already happening was Bruguera's work of art.

Fifteen minutes went by until a university director took the microphone and demanded to know what was happening and why people were taking cocaine. Somebody asked that Tania Bruguera explain. She finally stood up but all she said was: ‘I want to thank those Colombians who came here tonight'. And then she left.

The following day Bruguera told a disgruntled audience that she had achieved her desired effect. ‘This is a work in which each of you present was responsible for what happened', she said. Her safeguard: the waitress had instructions not to allow anyone more than two lines.

I believe she never expected people to react so strongly. I think she created a scandal without thinking about the consequences, like the fact that the event was organised with funding from a foreign university [New York University] and a public university here.

Artists have a poetic license to throw gunpowder. But then what? You can't just leave it there."

“Drug trafficking is still a highly sensitive subject in Colombia”

Sébastien Longhurst is one of our Observers in Colombia.

I think Bruguera was trying to show that some people here consume cocaine, and are therefore partly responsible for the conflict. In Colombia we believe that it's only destined for foreign shores. It is true that the majority of consumers live in Europe and North America, but there are Colombians who take it as well. I think she wanted to point that out.

However, you only see a handful of people taking it in the video, so it looks like the idea was a failure.

The reason why it sparked outrage is clear to me: drug trafficking is still a highly sensitive subject in Colombia. It is a shadow that follows Colombians everywhere and a topic that still generates a lot of pain for most of us."

trafficking /  drugs /  Colombia /  art