Right now in Queens, New York, massive sculptures made from detritus of the sea have alit, standing tall and colorful like characters from mythology, imbued with some sort of sacred power. They are the work of sculptor Daniel Lind-Ramos, on view as part of his solo exhibition “El Viejo Griot—Una historia de todos nosotros” at MoMA PS1.
Lind-Ramos was born in Loíza, Puerto Rico, in 1953, and his hulking yet elegant sculptural assemblages are made from salvaged objects, some literally washed ashore, and others gifted or sourced from members of his community.
After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, the artist incorporated the now-ubiquitous blue tarps distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the massive (and still ongoing) recovery efforts, along with burlap sacks, horns, pipes, steel buckets, and other everyday objects. In the artist’s hands, the cast-offs become newly meaningful as they are reconstituted as commentaries on colonization, climate change, and immigration that is deeply embedded in his native country.
In an exclusive interview filmed as part of the brand new season of Art21’s flagship series , Lind-Ramos describes the influence of Caribbean and Puerto Rican culture on his life and work. Citing the “aesthetic of the masquerade” and African heritage among his inspirations, the artist said “a lot of energy is going on… there is a communication going above the language. There is something that is felt.”
Another component of his works are objects related in some way to immigration, such as shoes or pieces of luggage. “The sea brings it,” he explained. “The material activates my imagination… I start playing with it. I incorporate that object or I have to invent an object to the idea… It’s a very organic way of organizing.” With regard to the natural disasters that have wreaked havoc on the island communities, the artist said he struggled with marrying the dual aspects of the hurricane: “It was sublime and terrible at the same time. It was something else.”
“The experience of catastrophe, that’s not exclusive of Puerto Ricans,” he added. “There is a universality, regardless where you live in this world. People have to invent again. When you don’t have electricity, you don’t have water, you have to be inventive.”
And the artist has been inventive, turning lost belongings into found objects that are the foundation of his totemic structures.
“They are all alive, you know?” he said. “There, I find beauty.”
Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series Art in the Twenty-First Century, below. “Daniel Lind-Ramos:
This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of news-making artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is airing now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.