Sandra Ramos Sees 'Sorrows'; Unsparing Look at Cuba

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Byline: Joanna Shaw-Eagle, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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. …