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Ibrahim Miranda: From Cuzco to the sugar factory

Ibrahim Miranda: From Cuzco to the sugar factory

For some artists, there is a zero point or ground zero that takes place before the actual process of creation. Oftentimes, these artists eventually design pieces with a profound intellectual sense and substantial diasporization towards areas and topics inserted in old themes which, due to the very force of their nature, leave loose ends or residues, which are definitely useful for the type of recycling, carried out today. From this ground zero, the mind devotes itself to calculation and shrewdness, refining or purifying materials, which it will eventually manipulate. This is why this preamble may prove decisive during the materializing phase of the primary energy.

Without fear of misjudgment, I have included Ibrahim Miranda, born in Pinar del Río in 1969, in this group of artists. Almost ironically, since his true strength lies in the manipulation of cartography, a mental map is required in order to follow his trajectory and effectively connect each of his tracks and trails, including the realm of the intangible. Like the codes around which the remaining connections revolve, we will create a map of the city of Cuzco during the Inca Empire (which ends describing the shape of a puma), and one or more sugar factories. Both references will give us an idea of the corpus of his activity—the first one deals with structural and aesthetic issues while the second has to do with ontological tensions in conflict with identity.

Miranda belongs to a generation (the one of the 1990s) somewhat pressed by the urgency to speak out. They were the protagonists of a conceptual rebellion which aimed to cover the sense of abandonment caused by the mass exodus of previous generations. Certainly, this contingency generated substantial and transcendental interventions in Cuban visual arts. However, I also believe that perhaps it deprived it of a more relaxed and less toxic poetic. Ibrahim’s work is among the few that reached a balance between prevailing circumstances and the commitment of not turning his back on his own concerns, since he has confessed not feeling imprisoned by what he considers the narrow territory of a generation.

Clearly, we are in the presence of a strange and seductive traveler who mutates from navigator to archaeologist and from archaeologist to a huge bird, gliding over different latitudes, which reaches its true fulfillment precisely from the heights attained. But in all cases, this view, ready to embark on the most unexpected explorations, has been endowed with the essence of an island, and the wonder with which things are perceived from the islands.

In 1993, he titled one of his pieces, Noche insular: jardines invisibles [Insular Night: Invisible Gardens], from a well-known poem by José Lezama Lima, in which the poet depicts our geographical location as an enchanted place, which in conspiracy with the lurking sea, is ready to generate and multiply the spell. This spell is seemingly a starting point for a more profound inquiry, which may even question the integrity of this magic or seduction. At one point, Miranda discovers and incorporates certain signs of Cuban poetic intentions; signs which in some cases refer to our nation with the same clarity as the most lucid area of our historiography.

Along the same line of thought, resulting in nearly two centuries of written images, the artist seems to have successfully captured a sort of “instability” when addressing the concept of island, and within this instability, a more plausible reality to confront the ever painful process of self-recognition. This time, the artist resumes the confrontation of “opposites,” that is, the clash between Lezama’s “violet sea,” which seems to announce the omens of “the gods,” and the annoyance felt by Virgilio by this very sea, which is the main character of his poem La isla en Peso (The Entire Island), where he complains over and over again about “the damned circumstance of water all around.”

Although the part of Piñera’s work that ultimately seems to be more influential in Ibrahim Miranda are his plays, which portray a wealth of situations rarely seen in any theater; situations which almost always delve into the issue of identity, in a thorny and open manner, viewed from a minimalist perspective, in a peculiar way through the behavior mostly of people who have come down in the world. The environments created by Piñera’s aesthetics provide excellent incentives or provocations for the pictorial feast, in order to nurture concerns about our controversial psychological behavior and transform them into images.

Geography appears to be an infinitely fertile field for Miranda’s requirements, or rather, the objects of his study in a primitive state, inevitably spilling over their own limits. This is how some of his pieces are invaded by rivers, which are clearly one of nature’s expressions most frequently used in philosophy and in other currents of thought since ancient times.

In his painting Los pasos perdidos [The Lost Steps] (2004), these rivers come from everywhere; they run along the furrows on the face of a man who gives himself in to mutations, doubts and quests. Behind them in this foreground in which they appear there is a vivid memory of underlying and mirrored events—commodities representing the nation, such as sugar and tobacco, which many times we are not aware of. There is something powerfully appealing in these rivers that flow through the face, portrayed as tributaries of a much larger one which he calls Nile, which apparently symbolizes the flow of contradictions, exchanges and connections in the mind of a man who represents many men and who is enriched by the diversity contributed by the five continents.

In Ibrahim Miranda’s work there is a perspective that almost always leads to something I would like to call “visual happiness” and which facilitates interaction between the pieces and the viewers is not overlooked. A good example of this is the series Mapas [Maps] (2007-2010)—elongated pieces that end up in murals, where their conceptual values and expressive beauty become more compact. It depicts an island of Cuba that is intervened by a series of fictions ranging from a rare bestiary of endemic creatures, through which, at times, the territory of that land collates its substance, and a universe of plants endowed with the grace to exhibit itself through sequences that leave a deep mineral flavor, of something compacted by memory itself, and which we are happy to rediscover as our own.

Miranda had already produced other series of great impact in the same scale, using then collage and silk screening, in pieces such as Castigo [Punishment] (2006), which is a sarcastic observation of the tradition of punishment in our societies and the impact of this on the people’s behavior; and Cautiverio [Captivity] (2006), inserted once more in the recurrent and inexhaustible theme of freedom and the various ways through which it can be lost.

There are pieces in the career of an artist that will always leave an indelible imprint on the memory of those who have approached his work. For Ibrahim, these pieces seem to be different versions of Lágrimas Negras [Black Tears]—tears embedded in our insular shelf, on firm land, or rather on a fine irony with multiple meanings, which allows these small salted portions to suggest something new. Consequently, he applies a more sober use and contrast of colors.

Let us return to the map of the city of Cuzco at the height of the Inca Empire and think of the figure of the puma, which has delighted everyone who has stopped to look upon it. This is undoubtedly a substantial precedent that helps us to enjoy, more intensely, one of Ibrahim Miranda’s most recent pictorial passions, his map-glyphs. In his eagerness to comb through so many urban spaces on the planet and finding in each an animal that best describes the atmosphere of the city and the nature of its inhabitants, he has even conceived a zoology manual as notable as that of Borges and Bioy Casares, both of which seduced us in a previous era. A curious fact is that his aforementioned passion moved from silk screening to painting. The process by which all this occurs is disconcerting, yet definitely attractive to discover that when acrylic is stamped on canvas, some of the referents are lost, but background textures that become true dissertations and states of mind are obtained.

February 2013

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