Sepia and black-and-white photos are assembled, pasted, and superimposed: Ricardo Miguel Hernàndez’s photomontages featured in the book When the Memory Turns to Dust are beautiful, often funny; they invite the reader to question their meaning, until one comes across a familiar face, that of Fidel Castro, and these few lines written overleaf: “Fidel presides / that goes to the State Island Beach with a Cuban friend of ours / another day distinct from mine. It is half a block from home. May 1958.”
Ricardo Miguel Hernandez is a Cuban artist. He presents himself as a “seeker of memory,” “a visual archaeologist who operates technically and discursively on the elasticity of a recording of reality.” His work focuses on the ambiguity of historical memory, and to that end, it uses photography and video. “I move away from the original document to transform it into a new artistic construction, a new historical memory … I remove the dust from the archival fragments of memories I uncover in order to articulate new constructions. Thus, I construct a new history, more in tune with individual X than with Cuban mega-histories.”
He aims to foreground the multiplicity, complexity, and richness of small stories in the face of the great uniform, imposed history. His photomontages are meant to be “a kind of constructed and resurrected testament which distills the meanings and mixtures of a culture such as Cuba’s, mixed and singular.” The photographs, which date anywhere from the 1920s to the 1980s, serve to “recontextualize and re-semanticize history frozen on photographic paper […] I conscientiously manipulate, meticulously elaborate other realities, which are juxtaposed, assembled, mutilated, with no intention of covering up either the traces of time on the paper, or the seams produced by these photographic collages.”
A critical and artistic work, When the Memory Turns to Dust assumes the power to restore smiles, to blind, to transform faces, expressions, situations. History. The artist works mostly with images that were on the brink of disappearance and gives them a new life. “I assemble landscapes, portraits, scenes of customs or abstract motifs to rewrite this individual/social memory; to enrich the heritage that is often found among Cuban families; and to suggest a possible opening as a reminder of who we are and how we see ourselves.”
Ricardo Miguel Hernàndez, When the Memory Turns to Dust, 89 books, 100 pp., € 28.