Carlos Garaicoa is internationally known for his explorations of social and political issues in the context of urban architecture and the built environment. Inspired by his native Havana, and driven by a belief in the artist’s moral obligation toward society, Garaicoa adopts the city as a laboratory and metaphor for human existence. He intervenes on its landscape to offer searing and insightful commentary on issues such as architecture’s ability to alter the course of history, the failure of modernism as a catalyst for social change, human rights, and the frustration and decay of twentieth-century utopias.
Surprisingly, Garaicoa’s work, along with that of many of Cuba’s internationally known artists, is seldom seen on the Island. He designed this exhibition for the 10th Havana Bienalle to be specifically directed to a Cuban audience, incorporating elements of Havana and addressing issues of social and political concern to its citizens. That this exhibition, so rooted in Cuba and the Spanish language, could successfully translate to a North American, English-speaking audience is testament to the artist’s ability to discuss such issues in a manner that resonates in both local and global contexts.
Working across media, Garaicoa characteristically takes a process-oriented, multidisciplinary approach that defies categorization. Several series of black-and-white photographs, intervened upon in various ways, evolve poetic essays. The eight works in Untitled (Sentences) (Sin titulo (frases)) (2009), through poignant verses sewn in thread upon the surface of the photographs, meditate on memory, politics, and the deterioration of a city.
In other works, Garaicoa engages architecture and the built environment through sculpture and installation. The Crown Jewels (Las joyas de la corona) (2009) consists of eight intricate, intimately sized cast silver models of international sites of military authority, surveillance, and repression, including Cuba’s Villa Marista, the East German Stasi, Guantánamo Naval Base, the Pentagon, and the KGB.
Carlos Garaicoa (born 1967 in Havana, Cuba) lives and works in Madrid, Spain, and Havana, where he studied thermodynamics at the Instituto Hermanos Gómez and visual art at the Instituto Superior de Arte. Since 1991, Garaicoa has exhibited extensively at international venues including the 53rd Venice Biennale and Documenta 11. His works belong to public and private collections including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Tate Modern, the Museum of Modern Art, and El Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.
Carlos Garaicoa: La enmienda que hay en mí (Making Amends) debuted in 2009 at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, Cuba during the 10th Havana Biennale. It was then shown at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum in Tampa in 2010.
Curator of Latin American and Caribbean Art, Institute for Research in Art, University of South Florida
Image: © 2011 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VEGAP, Madrid