Gallery Beat October 2014

Cuban artist Sandra Ramos, considered by many to be the leading Cuban visual artist of her generation, has been working feverishly for the last year to finish off a series of new works which are being showcased now in a show titled “Bridging the Past, Present and Future: Recent Works by Sandra Ramos” at The Katzen Museum at American University in Washington, DC.

Curated by Diane Camber, this exhibition “is comprised of prints, video, collage, and installations created by Cuban artist Sandra Ramos. This artist reflects on the conflicting experiences of living in her beloved homeland with all of its many challenges. Her work often takes a narrative form in which she depicts herself as a child-like explorer or modern day Alice in Wonderland. Ramos’ prints and mixed media works feature exquisite craftsmanship and use of color and naiveté, tempered by wit and irony. This exhibition reflects the mordant wit for which Cubans are famous, as well as a kind of nostalgia and exuberance particular to the artist.”

Ramos, who currently resides in the US, having finally had enough of Castro’s Workers Paradise, had previously visited the US many times, both for previous shows in other American cities as well as for museum art conferences (as invited speaker). Additionally, since her work is in the permanent collection of many prestigious American museums, such as The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston, it is refreshing to see the Katzen bring such an important artist to the DMV.

Her work, which often delivers visceral commentaries dealing with taboo issues in Cuban society – such as racism, mass migration, freedoms and liberties and the impact of Communism on the Cuban psyche – began, in the 1990s, to place Ramos at the very leading edge of a group of young Cuban artists who used their visual art as a narrative medium to describe, criticize and export the images of the world in which they lived and survived.

Following nearly twenty highly successful solo exhibitions in Japan, Mexico, Germany and Holland, Ramos had her US gallery show solo debut at the former Fraser Gallery in Washington, DC in 2004.

One of Ramos’ most poignant works from the 1990s (not in the Katzen show, which is showcasing new work), is now in the collection of MOMA in New York and best exemplifies the work that started her career and made her famous.

Titled “The Damned Circumstance of Being Surrounded by Water,” Ramos transforms her image (as a little girl) onto the shape of Cuba, her body pinned to the island by bright red Royal Palms (the national tree of Cuba); palms changed from their natural color to the color of the Cuban Revolution.

The new work at the Katzen is a huge leap forward in both her art, and her perceptions of the world; now from the safe residency in the US.

 

It is both a lesson in impeccable craftsmanship in the professional presentation of several intricate pieces, such as Transitory Identities (2013), a Light-box installation measuring 90 x 19 inches, plus the use of suddenly available technologies to create very large mixed media works.

Ramos psychological analysis of the utter failures of the Cuban Revolution, the separation of Cuban families, and the brutalization of multiple Cuban generations also continues to inform and use the power of the visual narrative to record for posterity the toxic effects of Communism on the Caribbean nation that was once her homeland.

For example, her new series of works that use enlarged images of real Cuban passports, elevate the travel document to another level. In the context of the jailed island, it is a key to freedom, albeit a key poisoned by the bitter taste of exile. Kudos to Katzen director Jack Rasmussen for bringing this valiant artist to the DMV! The exhibition goes through October 19.

Written by: F. Lennox Campello

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