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From raging storms come sculptures and stories – Repeating Islands

“For Puerto Rico-based artist Daniel Lind-Ramos, found objects become symbols of life,” writes Rob Goyanes for Art Basel.

‘Earth will go on without us,’ says Daniel Lind-Ramos. ‘We have to be aware of that.’ This awareness started percolating when the artist was a child. He and other kids in Loíza, a town 20 miles outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Lind-Ramos was born and still lives today, were fascinated by the cycles of the planet. ‘We watched the trees,’ he says. ‘They’d have flowers, and then they’d have fruit that we’d collect, and then we’d watch the fallen fruit get rotten. And then they’d come up again.’

Lind-Ramos is speaking on the phone from his studio. In the background, a rooster sings periodically. ‘I built a little house here from palm-tree leaves,’ he says, ‘with a little outside space.’ As both material and symbol, the coconut palm tree, brought to the Caribbean island by Spanish colonizers around 500 years ago, often appears in the sculptural assemblages he creates.

[. . .] ‘I like to go walking by the sea with a bag,’ he says. ‘Not thinking about taking anything, just walking.’ The people in Loíza know to give him any interesting debris they might find.

Lind-Ramos was making sculptures about tropical cyclones before Hurricane María decimated the island in 2017, resulting in the death of nearly 3,000 people, massive damage and long power outages, compounded by a slow response from the US Federal Government Emergency Agency (FEMA). ‘Those were terrible days,’ he says of that time. ‘There was a lot of debris, for months, for years.’ The storm also brought a new material, and new metaphor, into Lind-Ramos’s practice. ‘A lot of roofs were blue because of the FEMA tarps,’ he says. ‘I remember, for months, seeing those blue tarps around.’

It was only after the hurricane that major art institutions and blue-chip galleries started to take notice of Lind-Ramos’s work. Included in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, his piece María, María (2019) resembles a female figure with coconuts for a head and breasts, rope for hair, and FEMA tarp for a flowing dress. Figura de Poder (Figure of Power, 2016–18) – shown in the artist’s solo exhibition, ‘SUSTENANCE’, at The Ranch, Montauk, in 2021 – includes a tambourine head with a glove resting against it, as if banging a rhythm or covering a yawn. Mirrors decorate the almost-three-meter-tall figure; a sledgehammer-as-forearm rests on the floor.

Lind-Ramos’s 2023 MoMA PS1 survey ‘El Viejo Griot – Una historia de todos nosotros’ (The Elder Storyteller – A Story of All of Us) included his piece Baño de María (Bath of Mary, 2018–22). The sculpture includes a boat propeller – the first item the artist found while wading through chest-high floodwaters after Hurricane María – as well as twisting trumpets and pipes that signify the storm’s spiral. The work also references Mary, mother of Christ, a crucial figure of Catholicism, the dominant religion in Puerto Rico, which syncretized with indigenous Taíno and West African Yoruba cultures.

In the richly layered readings that Lind-Ramos’s art encourages, the blue tarp not only symbolizes water, but something so obvious that it might elude observation: FEMA itself. The material signals the failure of governments to protect their citizens, to deal with the human-caused acceleration of climate change, and to address the daily disparities in housing and resources between rich and poor, white and Black.

Founded by escaped slaves and freed Black people, Loíza is a hub of West African traditions, kept alive by the town’s afrodescendientes – a long-marginalized group to which Lind-Ramos belongs. He defines art as the following: ‘First you experience life, then you take that experience and make symbols with it. You collect experiences as a human being. And those experiences depend on where you are on the planet.’ His sculptural works are elegant yet densely symbolic, referring to Puerto Rico’s past and present, as well as its global connections. [. . .]

At his studio, Lind-Ramos still has things he found in the wake of Hurricane María. This archive of items – family heirlooms, consumer products, shipping materials, plant matter – reflect not only his tendency for collecting, but the ephemera that inundates the planet. When Lind-Ramos was young, he ‘didn’t want to throw things away,’ he says, ‘because they were full of memory for me.’ His art, like the best stories, contains both the sublime and the horrific, tokens of joy and cataclysm alike.

When asked how his work sits with environmentalism, as both a practice and a politics, Lind-Ramos reflects: ‘Many of these objects are not meant to last long. People use them, then they throw them away. And then we have a lot of objects that we call trash.’ Of his strolling the beaches and talking to neighbors, he notes: ‘In the act of collecting, I am thinking about immersing myself in a cycle. I don’t consider all of the objects trash. They are materials for my work.’

Art was never a rarefied thing for Lind-Ramos. ‘My uncle was a mask-maker, like many of the people who live in my community,’ he says. Loíza is known for the Fiestas Tradicionales en Honor a Santiago Apóstol (Festival of Saint James) with its parade of vejigantes: bright-red, devil-like masks, representing European colonizers, amongst other figures. The horned masks left a strong impression on the young Lind-Ramos, but another character had an even bigger impact: el viejo (the old man). ‘That costume reminded me of many old people in my community – not necessarily one particular person – which I loved. El viejo could be a construction worker, or an old medicine man, or a storyteller.’ Like everyone and everything, Lind-Ramos’s sculptures contain many stories. What connects them is plot, character, texture, and color. [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.artbasel.com/stories/daniel-lind-ramos-puerto-rico

[Images above: First, photograph of Lind-Ramos by Raquel Pérez Púig. Right: Figura Emisaria, 2020. Exhibition view of “SUSTENANCE ” at The Ranch in 2021; second, (one on my favorites!) Baño de María, 2018–22.]

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