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Sandra Ramos: The other island

Sandra Ramos: The other island

The crucial point seems to lie in naming things. This is why when I commented on the   schoolgirl that is present in her work I did not use the word “student”. I used the word “Pioneer” which refers to political circumstances, to a moral obligation that involves a series of rites or sublimations capable of confining those generations of Cubans to the urgency of being Pioneers first and students second. It is therefore not by chance that Sandra’s work also develops in a climate of urgency that takes her consistently to a point that can be described as “a need to express”—many call this “an obligation to express.”

The starting point of this adventure can be set in 1993 with Manera de Matar Soledades [Ways to Kill Solitudes], her first solo exhibition, twenty-five engravings first shown at the Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales in Havana and later at the Nina Menocal Gallery in Mexico. One of the engravings in this exhibition would herald what would become her definite link with water: “La maldita circunstancia del agua por todas partes” [The Damned Circumstance of Water Everywhere]. The title was taken from a poem by Virgilio Piñera. The island, the body-earth, harassed by the tide and corroded by salt, but at the same time, never giving up the worship of water. Thus, water carries its double-edged meaning and the strength of belief especially when one of her works tells us that “the power of a glass of water can tear down a building.” Her visual story also interprets water as the main scenario for exodus. And so we arrive at 1994, the climax of that exodus she constantly depicts and will experience intensely in an installation consisting of ten suitcases painted on the inside, exhibited under the title Migraciones [Migrations]. These suitcases, exhibited at the Fifth Havana Art Biennial, are torn between the playful and the dramatic, showing intimate scenes of the imaginary beings that are to carry them.

Through two decades, the artist has used techniques ranging from printmaking to painting, from drawing to digital printing and video art, eventually finding comfortable freedom in installations. We have often heard critics refer to Sandra as an exceptional printmaker, and when we ask about her academic studies, we discover that she majored in printmaking at the San Alejandro Fine Arts Academy.

During the second half of the 1990s, Sandra Ramos’s work matured with a surprising strengthening of the conceptual core. During this phase, she insisted on the underground, which represents everything underlying life, society, a city, and even a nation; cosmetics are applied to the true drama in multiple settings which go from formal speech to simple dress. Such a world still resembles reality, but it has reversed into a dreamlike quality. Her catalogue during this period includes such important works as La isla que soñaba ser un continente [The Island that dreamed about being a continent] (1995), La lección de Historia [The History Lesson] (1996), Los enigmas de la identidad [The Enigmas of Identity] (1997), Buzos [Divers] (1999) and Maquinaria para ahogar las penas [Machinery for Drowning Sorrows] (1999).

As her work progresses, Sandra Ramos has confirmed that her tone emerges largely from a rhythm that is permeated with sobriety, pointing to calmness and containing her views on various existential topics including her own sexuality.

Sandra’s work has traveled to different galleries around the world: the Barbican Centre in the City of London, the Nina Menocal Gallery in Mexico, Ludwig Forum in Germany, the I.I.C. Contemporary Art Gallery of Jerusalem, Kunstlerahaus of Graz (Austria), Whitechapel Art Gallery in London and also in France, Japan, Holland, the United States, Spain, Venezuela and Canada. She has been granted scholarships by the Barbican Centre and the Civitella Raineiri Foundation and in Cuba she has received the National Culture Award, the National Engraving Salon Grand Prix and the La Joven Estampa Prize.

A few days after having completed my article about Sandra Ramos and her work, I visited her home where we chatted about her latest projects.

One of her most recent is Poemas invisibles [Invisible Poems], an intense and tender embodiment of her mental connections with the language of poetry. In this new piece, the artist usurps verses from the poem El Río [The River] by Gastón Baquero and relocates them into a discourse about the tragedy of personal remembrance and the power of image and poetry per se. Everything occurs in an s-shaped tunnel, fitted with eight transparent windows covered with acrylic on which verses from Baquero’s poem are engraved.

Sandra told me, almost in a whisper: “I liked the idea that adults, in order to enter this tunnel, had to feel little again. For me, the tunnel is a symbol of secret childhood hideouts, a compendium of innocence, enabling dreams and memories to survive.”

Her work transcends all the limits and fear of rhetoric. We find the artist engaged in her latest project, an installation called 90 Millas [90 Miles], materialized in the form of a bridge to be exhibited at the National Fine Arts Museum during the coming Havana Biennial. The bridge, Viewers will be able to cross a collapsible bridge-structure composed of six light boxes equipped with 12 aerial photos of the Havana-Miami route. Sandra’s intention is to provide us with the illusion of walking over the waters, thereby uniting both ends of a mental geography which has had a dramatic effect on the Cuban identity during the last 50 years.

May 2015 This article formed part of the May 2015 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.

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