The Farber Collection
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Sandra Ramos

About Sandra Ramos

b. 1969, resides in Cuba

In the 1990s, a compulsion to escape its own borders took hold of Cuban culture.  With the rupture of political and economic ties to the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc, the island drifted back into the solitude of the Caribbean Sea and conflictive proximity to the United States. It was the time of the so-called “Special Period,” the exodus toward Mexico of a great part of the young intelligentsia that had created the Cuban Renaissance, and, in 1994, the “rafter crisis.” In the social imagination, to emigrate and live “outside” stopped being an option reserved only for apátridas—those without a homeland—and became instead a tolerated, even necessary way of securing the economic and living conditions that the country could not furnish. Now the Motherland was carried on the soles of your shoes. The hegemony of the island as the exclusive locus of cubanidad was decisively shattered, and the dynamic mobility implicit in Cuban history was reincarnated in Cubans themselves.

The image of Cuba as the terra firma described by José Martí as “where the palm tree grows” (Valentín Sanz Carta, Domingo Ramos, Tomás Sánchez) had been replaced by navigational charts, with which the island broke its ties and was set adrift like a boat or a pneumatic raft. By means of prints, installations, sculptural objects, and drawings, Sandra Ramos contributed a peculiar vision to the phenomenon. The engravings made around 1993 transformed her vision of the tropics into a narrative of families, friendships, and a culture torn apart by migration, and were a critical testament to the servility toward foreigners and the commercialization of values. From this emerged one of her best known works, La maldita circunstancia del agua por todas partes (The Damned Circumstance of Water Everywhere), in which Ramos symbolically fused her body with the island’s geography, fenced in by the inescapable perimeter of the Malecón. The poetic transformation of the individual self in an isolated fragment of the world defied the myth of the infinite or utopian island: José Martí’s lines gave way to Virgilio Piñera’s, incorporated into the title of Ramos’s work.

With the exhibition Migraciones II (Migrations II), featured in the Fifth Havana Biennial (1994), the artist started using the suitcase as a recurring element in her discourse on migration. The object, essential to any journey, was turned into a metaphoric expression of “rupture, excision, the trauma of distance well beyond its physical dimension. Personal experience in this case bursts into a wealth of suggestions that mix memories, ideals, and cruel realities” (Álvarez, 1994, 135). Covered by almost naïve figures that transmitted the complexity of the yearnings and the losses experienced by the traveler, these suitcases then began to sink—literally and metaphorically—shifting the narrative to the sea bottom. In its dreamlike atmosphere and the procedure involved in its assembly, Historia de las islas (History of the Islands), one of the most impressive of these suitcase works, alludes to the collage boxes of Joseph Cornell. Wide as a Louis Vuitton case, it contains images of the mystical Lamb; it makes reference to the ocean as well, in the conch-children resting at the bottom of the open case and in the use of an actual starfish to represent the star in the Cuban flag. The flag itself has been made from dyed feathers—a type of ready-to-go wings that Ramos added to other works of the same period, adjustable equipment that provides an escape akin to an angel’s flight. 

A metaphor of flight, of the personal crisis linked to the bankruptcy of values, the submerged story depicted by Ramos does not make any concessions to political pamphlets or to sociological critiques. Instead, it channels with suggestive richness the anguish of the context in which it was created.

References: Catalogue, Sandra Ramos 1989-2003, Fuchu Art Museum, 2003, illust. cover, illust. p. 24.

—Abelardo Mena Chicuri