The Farber Collection
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José Manuel Fors

About José Manuel Fors

b. 1956, resides in Cuba and Spain

Although José Manuel Fors has been cast as a photographer, or “artist of the lens,” his creations belong to the genre of post-photography. By appropriating images from others, American artists such as Sherrie Levine and Richard Prince questioned the status of the art work as a “unique” phenomenon. For the Cuban artist, the “borrowed” image is an instrument for a personal reflection on time and individual identity.

After his participation in Volumen I, the groundbreaking 1981 exhibition that was labeled a “challenge” by the sociological and schematic criticism of the day (Tomás, 1981, 340), Fors’s initial forays into photography took place in 1982. In those works, he treated household items as objets trouvés, and documented interventions related to his 1981 installation, Hojarasca (Fallen Leaves). He did not meet with an entirely warm reception; in the early 1980s, Cuban aesthetic consciousness and artistic education still conceived of art and photography as unrelated entities. Art was exhibited in galleries; photography belonged to the world of journalism and collective ideologies, and was considered a direct record of the social environment.

But Fors’s exploration of the photographic field inserted itself into an “underground” current of 20th-century Cuban art: the questioning of photographic truth. Despite the hegemony of the “direct” photograph, historical precedents existed: the collages made by Enrique Riverón, Carlos Enriquez, and Marcelo Pogolotti in the 1930s; the photographic manipulations featured in the 1966 exhibition Fotomentira (Photolie); photo-based paintings of the 1960s by A. Eiriz and Raúl Martínez; the documentation of visual performances by Leandro Soto in 1980; and even the surrealist discourses by Gory (Rogelio López Marín). Fors’s poetics played an important role in the re-evaluation of this “tradition,” and in the later emergence of a new post-photographic approach.

In 1985, the artist’s principal source of inspiration surfaced: the photographic archives of his paternal grandfather, Alberto José Fors (1885-1965), a scientist considered the father of Cuban forestry. Fors enriched his grandfather’s astonishing collection with letters, postcards, and family heirlooms, all assiduously preserved and available for inclusion in his work as “ready-mades.” The artist’s creative process is similar to editing; he selects images from this trove and re-photographs them, then groups the reprints according to simple visual structures: grids, circles, intersecting lines. Though two-dimensional, these complex assemblages evolve toward sculpture and installation art.

Manos (Hands) is an exception among Fors’s evocative works: detailed visions of the body and its parts generally don’t appear in his art. The hands depicted in Manos are the artist’s own. Other artists might treat such a work as a self-portrait, but Fors does not seem interested in that level of personal identification. The hands occupy only part of each photographic fragment; the pieces have been arranged in series, almost like a mosaic. The squares have been positioned in the manner of a kaleidoscopic image shifting around a central axis; they appear to merge into each other and multiply. It is perhaps a human landscape, and at the same time, an intimate homage to human labor, artistry, and zeal.

References: Catalogue, Four Cuban Photographers, p. 24. Wride, Tim B., ed., catalogue, Shifting Tides: Cuban Photography after the Revolution, pp. 98-99. Díaz, Desireé, El Tiempo Restaurado (Time Restored), ArteCubano 2/2001, Havana, cover and p. 21.

—Abelardo Mena Chicuri