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The multifaceted works of Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa return again and again to the issues of loss, identity and being driven from home. Born in Guatemala and raised in Canada, in his work the artist mines various fields of culture such as folklore, dream interpretation, ancient mythology, poetry and magic, as well as conspiracy theories. His sculptures, performances, and drawings unite aspects of theater, literature, and politics that are thoroughly imbued with recent Guatemalan history, namely the Civil War (1960–1996), and the liberation from the military dictatorship.

His online performance “Illusion of Matter” (2015), which the artist performed with children and which was featured as part of the series “Performance Room" at the Tate Modern, is a dreamy, associative piece inspired by childhood memories. At the end of the performance, the actors destroy the set, offering a visualization for the playful, childlike energy that Ramírez-Figueroa finds so inspiring, and showing its dual ability to create and destroy at the same time.

The contrast between his light-hearted artistry and the volatile political background often seems intentionally provocative, as in the video “A Brief History of Architecture in Guatemala” (2010–13). In the video, two dancers dance to the beat of a traditional marimba with Ramírez-Figueroa. They are all dressed in cardboard costumes depicting a range of Guatemalan architectural styles: one portrays a Mayan temple, another a colonial church, and the last the modernist building housing the National Bank of Guatemala. While dancing, the pieces of cardboard slowly fall apart, leaving the dancers naked – and offering a bitter commentary on the dysfunctional state of the country’s urban planning policy. In his video “Incremental Architecture” (2015), the artist once again examined the motive of questionable architecture erected above a cardboard foundation, only this time he alluded to the “architecture of remittance,” which refers to the remittances labor migrants send home, thus leading to an overabundance of McMansions characterized by styles ranging from maximalist to absurd. These buildings signify their owners’ wealth and success and give concrete form to the dream of going home. The stylistic excess of these buildings, however, reflects at the same time the fragility of the cultural landscape that, as a byproduct of globalization, is increasingly affected by being uprooted from one’s culture.

Dislocation is also a theme of his installation “God’s Reptilian Finger” (2015), which features a single fluorescent index finger surrounded by shapeless objects, floating in a darkened room like an explosion frozen in time. It lacks not only its hand and body, but also a clear direction. This image leads the viewer to wonder: What is it pointing to? The artist was inspired by the works of David Icke, the contemporary adherent of New Age theories who has found favor among right-wingers, especially for his publications on the “Babylonian Brotherhood.” The Brotherhood describes a secret society that has been in existence for over 6,000 years, whose members are lizard-like “supermen” (in the Nietzschean sense) from outer space. In his work he also refers to the pseudo-archaeological excavations that Mormon missionaries have carried out in Guatemala since 1947. With a whiff of the grotesque, the goal of these excavations was to find evidence of Western influences in pre-Columbian civilizations, as described in the Book of Mormon. With his exaggerated theatrical staging of this mish-mash of ideas, he neutralizes the power of these images, revealing them to be nothing more than pure fantasy and incoherent speculations built upon a foundation of imperialist and racist beliefs.

Text: Angela Rosenberg


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