An interview with Jamie Martínez for Art Fuse.
The ability to reflect upon the past, embrace the present, and project into the future is intrinsic to the human experience. Daniel Lind-Ramos captures the complexity of time in his sculptures which layer lived memories, cultural histories, and hope for the next generation through an assemblage of found materials. Lind-Ramos’ work tells the story of his hometown, Loiza, Puerto Rico; a beach region to the North of the island situated thirty-two kilometers east of the capital, San Juan. While continuing to live and make work in his hometown, Lind-Ramos is drawn to gathering materials from his environment. Debris washed ashore and objects collected from the homes of neighbors supply his studio with materials that are later tied, sewn or integrated into each sculpture.
Fall 2017 marked a critical period for Lind-Ramos, as well as many Puerto Ricans, whose lives were permanently altered in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. With his beloved community impacted, Lind-Ramos began to question his relationship with the concept of Maria, the mother of Jesus depicted in the New Testament. Previously held as a symbol of protection and mercy, Maria now signified unimaginable destruction for the artist. “Maria, Maria”, Lind-Ramos’s sculpture featured in the 2019 Whitney Biennial demonstrates a questioning of adoration, origination, and dogma while honoring the memory of the ancestral community Lind-Ramos calls home. Arte Fuse had the opportunity to speak with Lind-Ramos about the cultural histories and personal memories present within the artist’s autobiographical sculptures.
Jamie Martinez: Your journey began as a painter in Loíza, Puerto Rico, which is where you still reside and work. What influenced you to pursue this dream and journey into art?
Daniel Lind-Ramos: This journey into art has been motivated by my personal and collective experiences in relation to my community, the Caribbean region and its connection with African ancestry. Working with my family as both a materials supplier for crafts and as a draftsman myself in the community of Colobo in Loiza, a stronghold of Afro culture in Puerto Rico, has afforded me the connection with materials, tools, and techniques that would later appear in my practice.
I remember that in my residence everybody was working in different disciplines. My grandmother, Encarnacion, who used to make dresses for the women and children in the community also cooked traditional plates to be sold in the neighborhood. My mother, Isabel, was a seamstress and made items out of natural fibers: she and I used to go around to collect plants where we could obtain those materials. I learned how to carve and paint masks with uncle Luis; I also worked with my other uncle Juan, who was a cabinet maker. All of this activity used to take place in the living room, balcony, and the yard; and I remember myself drawing on the cardboard walls in the house.
Among others, my aim as an artist is to use a diversity of experiences as a means of inspiring an expression which contributes to preserving a memory that has developed a strong sense of belonging and confront our communities with its own stories.
JM: The coconut is at the center of your work and it’s used in many ways in your sculptures. Can you elaborate on the importance of the coconut not only in your work but in Puerto Rican culture and its communities?
DLR: The coconut palm tree meant and still means a lot to many families in the Caribbean. In Loiza, Puerto Rico, the coconut palm tree used to be used to construct houses, shelters against hurricanes and is still used as material for an array of activities. Many families sustain themselves in labor and economical endeavors related with this tree: some people chop down and peel coconuts, others work in the coconut food industry using this important ingredient in the confection of traditional dishes, while others make diverse arts and crafts with the different parts of the Cocotero tree, giving members of the community the opportunity to develop skills as carvers and sculptors. It is also a symbol of identity: because of the abundance of palm trees, in my town, we used to be called Cocoteros and our baseball and basketball teams carry this name.
The vital experience that inspires my sculptural assemblages derives from our Afro-Puerto Rican communities and from the African diaspora as a whole. The goal of these works is to honor our ancestral communities with narratives, historical references, and tangible traces of their lifetimes. The idea is to appreciate and express their contribution with specific examples through an inclusive aesthetic that stimulates a range of readings and meanings.
JM: The city of Loíza has a lot of African heritage and culture. Can you tell me more about Los Cocoteros de Loíza and how they and the city influence your work?
DLR: One of my first loves was sports, specifically basketball and baseball. I was part of the first baseball team named Cocoteros in Loiza. And as I mentioned before, we identify ourselves with the palm tree and the symbol of the Cocotero tree is part of our identity.
JM: Your work has a lot of presence and demands space due to the energy it brings. You had mentioned during our walk-through that you start with an object and that object activates memory. How does this process develop from an object that activates memory into a final sculpture?
DLR: We all have a lot of memories related with experiences linked to, among other things, objects, materials, and techniques. I am interested in the capacity of an object to radiate different meanings through its intrinsic ambiguity. In my expressive practice, in terms of narrative, I could be addressing personal and historical facts as well as activating viewers’ personal memories. From this point of view, different narratives can be aligned starting from the way the material is chosen to the way the objects are placed and the composition is designed. In this vision, a specific object could be talking about “local color” and its relationship with geopolitics.
JM: My first physical encounter with your work was at last year’s Whitney Biennial’s press preview where you were one of the standout artists and got the main photo in The New York Times review. What is the story behind “Maria, Maria” and its journey to the Whitney Biennial?
DLR: In the case of Maria, Maria, I related the tarp with the relationship of Puerto Rico to the States as a territory and then I related the material of the tarp with another material the coconut. The palm trees were brought by the Spaniards during colonial times so I wanted to play with those two materials to talk about Maria, to talk about the history of Puerto Rico in general, to talk about the ambiguity of the narrative of Maria as nature that creates and destroys. From the first day after Hurricane Maria struck, I started picking up debris to create the sculptures related to that intense experience of that powerful force of nature. When the Whitney curators arrived at my studio, they saw two sculptures inspired by Hurricane Maria and chose the one presented in the Whitney Biennial.
JM: Unfortunately, while I was writing these questions, our world turned upside down with the COVID-19 virus. How do you feel about the current situation and will your work be there when Marlborough reopens?
DLR: We all are still experiencing this global situation where humanity is at great risk. I don’t yet think I have enough psychological distance to consider the creative possibilities of experiencing this Covid-19 phenomenon.