Pan American Art Projects – PAAP
The work by Sandra Ramos emerged into the Cuban visual arts land scape of the early 1990s at a time when Cuba’s revolutionary project was clearly in crisis. It is essentially a poetic figurative work that back then stood out for, among other things, speaking with an accent in the first person like few other proposals, articulating a discourse that, on the one hand, offered an intellectual autobiographical component ex pressed through recurrent references to episodes of Ramos’s life and, on the other, shared visions about identitary characters from the insular state associated with being surrounded by water and its consequences in the sociocultural history of Cuba.
The island as paradise where sensuality flourishes along with a special way of interacting with the natural environment; the island as dream and utopia for the best all possible worlds, but also insular ity as isolation, as a physical barrier that excludes and hinders the potential of people. All these issues are intertwined in Ramos’s work to create a symbolic constellation-between individuality and revo lutionary socialization, between body and desire, between culture and nature-that makes her oeuvre one of the most unique examples from her generation-along with other artists like, for instance, Belkis Ay6n and Aimee Garcia. In 1993, the year she graduated from the lnstituto Superior de Arte (ISA) in Havana, Sandra Ramos produced a series of chalcographies that consolidated both her poetic figurative approach with expressive neo-Pop undertones and the symbolic capital and iconography that has characterized the visuality of her trajectory (island, ocean, flag, airplane, palm trees, the color blue, and her own body). In this group of works she addresses her revolutionary education, recreating per sonal episodes in pieces like Maribel, Wendy, Alejandro, and Seremos Como e/ Che (We Will Be like Che). among others. But these works also delve into a reflection surrounding the cultural, spiritual and material isolation of a person educated for the future of a communist utopia. This is addressed in works like Baja e/ hechizo de Ia palma (Under the Spell of the Palm Tree) , La maldita circunstancia del agua par todas partes (The Damn Circumstance of Water Everywhere). Con micruz acuestas (With My Cross on My Back), and El sueiio del profeta (The Prophet’s Dream) . Both groups of works articulate a narrative told in the first person, a sort of biographical story tinged with Ramos’s personal drives. It is a story that talks about the emotional education of generations of young people (embodied by her experience) raised with the values of a revolution that has irreparably collapsed. This is the sensibility marked by disappointment that was also conveyed in her works from 1994, the same year of the Cuban Rafters Crisis, when thousands of Cubans set off for the US on makeshift rafts in search of a better life. A life that was better than the one promised, but never fulfilled, by the revolutionary communist utopia.
More than two decades have passed between the creation of those images and the works included in “Deja Vu,” Sandra Ramos’s most recent exhibition at Pan American Art Projects, in Miami, curated by Alejandro Machado. And many things have changed during that period of time. Ramos immigrated to the US, a country that resumed relations with Cuba after a Cold War that lasted more than fifty years.
Now Cubans are free to travel to the former enemy country without the restrictions of the past. All these changes, this new situation, and the ensuing sensibility correlations permeate the e x hibition. They are conveyed through all the art mediurils that Ramos has been working with since the beginning of her career, including: engraving, painting, video, photography, installation, and the appropriation of objects. Noteworthy here is a drive towards the most immediate reality dis played in a sort of chronicle of sociocultural critical commentary. This can be appreciated in series like Trumpito (2017, from the series titled Homage to Thomas Nast) and “”Powerball”” (2016).1n the former, Ramos appropriates the satirical and humorous approach of artist Thomas Nast’s work through a series of images created with mixed media and a figurative language. And she does so to be ironic about US president Donald Trump, whose positions on immigration, sexism, the exclusion of minorities and manipulation reveal the weakness of the democratic system when confronted with totalitarian regimes and the most gro tesque populist manifestations of the twenty-first century. At the same time, she winks at the character of El Bobo (The Fool) -created by artist and caricaturist Eduardo Abela-a recurrent icon in many of Sandra Ramos’s pieces from the 1990s. A similar tone rules her “Powerball” series-only with other powerful figures and different contexts-where she also addresses, among other things, the recklessness contained in the decision-making processes of those in power.
While in those series Ramos resorts to sociocultural commentary and to a critical distancing from the environment in which she lives, in the series titled “Apocalyptic Cartographies” and “Journey,” on the other hand, she draws from personal experiences and materials. They are intimate images of a family environment that depict family members through the use of techniques that combine photography and paint ing to ambiguously render space-time-somewhere halfway between the objectivity of the photographic image and the subjectivity of the pictorial order that surrounds and contains it. The resulting effect is a sensorial environment that oscillates between history and memory, between oblivion and recollections. Here, Sandra Ramos resumes the counterpointing that characterizes her entire body of work and that ranges from social and cultural narratives and their perception through an intellectual autobiographical vision.