Having been spirited out of Havana while still in cloth diapers, way before Cuban mothers had discovered disposables, I was eager to catch Sandra Ramos' "90 Miles: Living in the Vortex" at Dot Fiftyone Gallery.
The Havana-based artist's solo show features a 32-foot walkway of 12 light boxes in the shape of a symbolic bridge between Miami and Havana. On it, aerial photos taken by Ramos while flying between both tropical cities across the Florida Straits this past May are supposed to present spectators with "the possibility of overcoming more than half century of separation, anguish and differences" in the island's recent history.
Nevermind that Cubans aren't the only members of Miami's gallery trolling public and the installation is culture-centric. The bridge with a picture of Miami on one end and Havana on the other, with only images of clouds covering an empty and opaque ocean between them, hardly evokes the hardships of those lost at sea trying to flee Castro's destitute promise of utopia.
Standing on Ramos's flawlessly constructed steel bridge, atop a view of Havana and its harbor, I was hoping to be transported. I have never been back and wishing to experience a sense of a land awash in contradictions.
The closest I've been is living in Little Havana where early and recent Cuban refugees easily refer to the island's hardships, spirit of ingenuity, hopes for the future, outmoded jalopies, queuing up for food rations, risking an ocean crossing on a rickety balsa and the country's enduring traditions of baseball and music with nostalgia. But that's only one side of the picture.
Yet nowhere in Ramos's bridge installation or beautiful series of digital prints or 3D animations does one absorb the seriousness of the divide between those living on opposite sides of the span separating Cuba and el exilio.
Mind you, I'm not one to engage in polemics. I leave that to my parent's generation who lost their homes and were separated from their families. When arguing with these folks I always say that I'm too busy being a disidente in an America that's fucked up and has its own problems to unravel. They never stop comiendo la misma mierda!
There is no arguing that Ramos is a talented artist who is blessed with a finely-honed aesthetic. Or that the show has been impeccably curated by local art critic Janet Batet or that it has been seamlessly presented by the gallery. Only that a pair of series by the artist, one "Secret Fears," the other "Sea of Sorrows," supposed to induce a "reverie-like atmosphere in an autobiographical universe in which impossibility, solitude and chimera are essential elements," according to Dot's press release, fails to do so.
|Sandra Ramos Sea of Sorrows #1, Arms|
|Courtesy of the artist|
Batet, whose work I've covered in the past and have consummate respect for further states that: "The passage on the bridge is a quasi-mystical experience. Under our feet, we can feel the weight of that type of Styx, as the Straits of Florida to the Cuban identity, while -as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz- we realize that we are finally ready to come back Home."
Really? No matter how many times one clicks their heels together and wishes it, if this bridge represents what the artist and curator are proposing, I'll take a leap off the Golden Gate. In Miami Cubanese, we call that la meta-tranca or old-fashioned horseshit. As a Cuban who grew up Missouri, the "Show Me" State, I want to see some proof in the potaje.
Without being cued into the clues, Ramos's image of a minimalist arm cutting through ocean waves doesn't fully capture the plight of Balsero's. Just like a pair of anonymous figures seemingly engaged in a tug of war under the prying eyes of one of Fidel's CDR watchdogs or presumably the artist herself does little to convey the ebb and flow of suspicion between detractors and supporters of Castro's Cuba living only ninety miles apart as the pelican flies.
In this show aspiring to address the Cuban Diaspora and the nation's split identity, one leaves without an understanding of the so-called "Special Period" ushering Cuba's steep decline after the Soviet pull out that one suspects the artist must have endured as a young woman. Then again for an artist who still lives on the island some would say it's likely safer to be coy than stomp on the jock of local authorities.
Nor do you find allusions to the rabid anti-Fidel sentiment on our side of the gulf just as responsible for the island's uncertain future post Castro. Mostly the message seems to hew to the safer than sorry. It seems a missed opportunity to navigate the mine field of a volatile topic and really make a statement rather than conceptually tip toe around it.
|Sandra Ramos, people walking on bridge-90 Miles|
|Courtesy of the artist|
But that didn't stop a conga line of Wynwood art crawlers from shimmying across her allegorical distance shrinker during last month's Second Saturday art crawl. Geez, give these people a rum and coke and they don't give a shit who's swimming or sinking.
What you will find instead is a sleek and cerebral presentation that lacks gravitas considering its selling points. Ramos, who created the project while participating in a FountainHead Residency earlier this year, has also built an identical bridge installation to go on view at the Havana Biennial in March 2012.
Old school hardliners on this side of el charco would bet money that many seeing the Cuban version of the bridge would kick off their shoes and dogpaddle across it in our direction. It is a local opinion as old as the diapers la vieja sewed for me. Oye Sandra, if you're paying attention, why not take a real stab at the issues?
Through September 6. Dot Fiftyone Gallery, 51 NW 36th Street, Miami. Call 305-573-9994 or visit dotfiftyone.com.