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Cuban Artist’s Quonset Hut Transformation Stuns MOMA Visitors

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shadow figure inside of old quonset hut building
Photo taken of Cuban artist Tania Bruguera’s work, Untitled (Havana, 2000), at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

A SteelMaster Quonset Hut can be many things—yoga studios, garages, homes, and in one case, a work of art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Artist Tania Bruguera transformed a SteelMaster Quonset Hut™ to represent a Cuban military bunker in her piece Untitled (Havana, 2000).

Bruguera created her work of art, originally titled Engineers of the Soul, for the 2000 Havana Biennial, an art exhibition in Cuba that was established in 1984.  The work was on view for mere hours in Havana before being shut down by the Cuban government due to the installation’s nude male performers.

The work was first presented in the Cabaña Fortress, which was originally used as a jail for prisoners of conscience during the Cuban revolution. Counter-revolutionary opposition was tortured and executed by a firing squad in the bunker.

“What came first in this project was the site and that also helped define and shape the work. The Havana Biennial used one Spaniard fortress that was formerly a prison for prisoners of conscience,” Bruguera said. “And that was an element that I wanted to incorporate in the piece, this idea of what happened with people who think differently.”

Still from video of Fidel Castro shown in Untitled (Havana, 2000) by Tania Bruguera.
Still from video of Fidel Castro shown in Untitled (Havana, 2000) by Tania Bruguera.

When the Museum of Modern Art purchased the work of art in 2015, Bruguera used a SteelMaster Quonset HutTM to replicate the space using detailed photographs of the walls in the original space.  She wanted to make everything feel authentic, so the installation is set up exactly like it originally was in Havana. The installation was shown in the early part of 2018.

The installation is an immersive experience, affecting several of the senses. The inside of the hut’s floor was covered in rotting sugar cane residue, which is a remnant of milled sugar cane that has a powerful smell.  When viewers entered the work, the hut was very dark. The light at the end of the tunnel-like structure came from a television on the ceiling showing videos of Fidel Castro in his public and private life. There was also a live performance in the “bunker”’ with four nude men performing symbolic movements like bowing and brushing their bodies.

Bruguera included the naked men in her piece to remind the viewers of the island’s inhabitants, who lack basic freedoms, and to bring the ghosts of the Cabaña Fortress back to life.

“As an artist, I relate to political issues through the emotional process you go through because of those political issues,” Bruguera said. “It is intended to walk you through the experience of being Cuban at that moment in that specific period of time.”

The installation had a deep and meaningful connection for SteelMaster’s B2C President, Anthony Bueno, whose family immigrated to the United States from Cuba.

Walking through the dark and eerie exhibit brought back a memory of a story Anthony’s mother told him about his grandfather. Right before his family was getting ready to leave Cuba, his grandfather disappeared for three days. The family didn’t know where he went or what happened.

“He just comes back, and you can tell he’d been roughed up. He never talked about it. When I was standing in the MoMA, it hit me… this is probably what happened [to him], “Anthony said.

The thought of his grandfather going through that experience brought on a flood of emotions.

“This is what it must have been like. This is what it took for my family to escape this horrific place.” Anthony said.  “For me, I’ve never been there. Yet every day of my life I’m there.”

He says he feels proud that SteelMaster was able to be a part of a work of art that is so impactful to him and many others.

“Getting a chance to spend time in the prison for just a second was eerie and awesome at the same time.” He said. “You’re crying, you’re proud, you’re terrified. It was a really important experience for me.”

The uses for our buildings are virtually limitless. Whether you need a simple tool shed in your backyard, or want to create a work of art, we’re sure to have a Quonset Hut for sale that meets your unique needs!