- The Washington Times - Friday, May 28, 2004

The Fraser Gallery Georgetown is currently hosting the first solo American gallery exhibit of leading Cuban artist Sandra Ramos.

Her work is here, but she isn’t. Why?

Miss Ramos, 35, who worked intensively over the past year to create her metaphoric, dream-like “Sea of Sorrows” and “Bottle” series, has been forbidden to travel to the United States for the Fraser opening.

Surprisingly, it’s not Fidel Castro’s government that is the obstacle. Instead, it is the U.S. Department of State, which has denied the artist a visa. In a bid to increase pressure for democratic change in Cuba by drying up the flow of hard currency to the Castro regime, the U.S. government has tightened restrictions on travel by Cuban artists to the United States.

Denial of a visa for Miss Ramos to visit this country is all the more ironic as so much of her art is in major U.S. museums, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. She has also exhibited her mixed media work in Japan, England, Mexico, Germany, Holland, Spain and France, in addition to Cuba.

Miss Ramos is one of a group of cutting edge artists in Cuba who have attempted to break through the government’s severe restrictions on experimental forms of expression, whether in music, film or the visual and installation arts. Her characteristic preoccupations include her country’s unacknowledged racial tensions and the emotional scarring and inevitable fraying of the ties of family and friendship caused by the continuing flow of refugees from Cuba, which Miss Ramos portrays metaphorically as a jail with walls of water.

In an e-mail to the Fraser Gallery, the artist writes that her “Sea of Sorrows” series emphasizes “the shipwreck” as a recurrent theme in contemporary society: “Physical shipwreck, sentimental shipwreck. Economic shipwreck, political shipwreck.”

Such a work is the exhibit’s “La Maldita Circunstancia del Agua por Todas Partes” (Damned Circumstance of Water Everywhere). At first, the mixed-media collage looks like an island with palm trees. On closer examination, viewers see that the artist painted herself in the shape of Cuba. The red palm trees — red is the color of Cuba’s revolution — pin her down to what appears as the green of the island. In actuality, the green is the color of her dress.

Miss Ramos expresses the pain of Cuban life mainly through self-portraits, following in the tradition of masters like Rembrandt and van Gogh, who used the genre as a medium for the expression of personal anguish.

She depicts herself again in “Quizas Hasta Deba Partirme en Dos” (Perhaps I Should Split in Two). One of the more complex prints in the show, it is an etching with the heads collaged over. An upside-down triangle at the top holds a picture of Antonio Maceo, a hero of Cuba’s independence struggles. He appears to be a wedge driven through the artist’s divided consciousness. To the right of this wedge lie symbols of the West — the Leaning Tower of Pisa and an airplane weeping, perhaps, at the trauma of Cuban migration. To the other side lies an idealized Cuba showing a Cuban family, communal farm and palm trees.

Miss Ramos continues her anti-migration theme in “El Circulo de Tiza” (Chalk Circle). She portrays the scene as set in a TV box, with curtains pulled to the side and a single young man dressed in the uniform of the Pioneers, the communist regime’s answer to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. His arms become migration lines between Cuba and southern Florida.

She also places herself in the series of “Bottle” paintings. More surrealist than “Sea of Sorrows,” the series depicts her floating in water in differently positioned bottles. The bottles are moving allusions to still another kind of imprisonment in Cuba. But they may also refer to messages Cubans send in bottles to the United States.

One thing that cannot be contained within a bottle is the passion that Sandra Ramos feels for the people of Cuba, a passion which has never been on more powerful display than in this exhibition.

WHAT: “Sandra Ramos: Sea of Sorrows”

WHERE: Fraser Gallery Georgetown, 1054 31st Street NW

WHEN: Noon to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays, by appointment, through June 16

TICKETS: Free

PHONE: 202/298-6450

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