The words have to be enticed out of Ibrahim Miranda’s mouth, one by one. His sentences are brief, sporadic, with long pauses, and are often condensed into a simple head movement, affirmative or negative. Sometimes there is a smile of approval or a laugh. I have never seen him worked up, or heard his voice raised. Yet one always feels the presence of a great inner, containement, like a pressure cooker.
The words have to be enticed out of Ibrahim Miranda’s mouth, one by one. His sentences are brief, sporadic, with long pauses, and are often condensed into a simple head movement, affirmative or negative. Sometimes there is a smile of approval or a laugh. I have never seen him worked up, or heard his voice raised. Yet one always feels the presence of a great inner, containement, like a pressure cooker. Our longest conversations in the past twenty years have been possible thanks to the presence of at least one talkative speaker! Yet despite being so quiet, Ibrahim is able to give lectures, teach workshops and give master classes in many universities and cultural institutions around the world. Despite being an introvert, he is an artist with a great expressive, communicative compulsion, who wants to share his work and what he knows about artistic creation, especially woodcutting, his specialty, and to participate in community projects or those involving the active participation of the viewers. His artistic production has been constant, almost obsessive, which is an excellent formula to balance the meditative and melancholic aspects of his personality.
Ibrahim comes from a family of poor mulattos from the most western province of our island, Pinar del Río, which has been called the Cinderella of Cuba because it is socially, economically and culturally under-developed. Although in the last years this situation has started to change favourably (since 2001 Pinar del Río has a Museum of Art (MAPRI), for instance), several hurricanes have hit this area so hard as to make the recovery process slow and relentless. Ibrahim Miranda left for Havana in 1984 to study at the National School of Visual Arts and then the Higher Institute of Art, from which he graduated in 1993. Moving to Havana and studying at these schools would have created an exciting change for Ibrahim. Many artists who live and work in Havana have made the same journey from the remotest corners of our island in order to benefit from the free art programmes which began in the first years of the Revolution. This constant influx of young men and women from all the provinces, from the urban and rural areas, from every social, cultural, racial and religious sector, has had a decisive influence on the development of our varied and complex artistic life, since all brought from their places of origin their own history and interpreted and assimilated in their own way the teachings they received. Some brought with them ingenuousness and the typical humour of the countryside, others the symbolism of the Afro-Cuban religious traditions practiced by their families, and still others the imprint of the depressed, dismal atmospheres of their childhoods. Ibrahim arrived in Havana when he was barely fifteen, bringing emotional and psychological baggage together with a great intellectual curiosity and interest in historical and philosophical problems and the mysteries of art and poetry.
Long before his graduation from ISA, the splendid prints and ink drawings of Ibrahim Miranda were well-known and began to be shown in national and foreign galleries. Soon after, his woodcuts won important international awards such as first prize in the 10th San Juan Latin American and Caribbean Printmaking Biennial, Puerto Rico, 1993. Ibrahim started off as an artist with a defined poetry, expressed in two fundamental ways; xylography and the use of maps, with which he created countless transfigurations of the island of Cuba, generally with a dark, dismal aspect as well as great lyricism. His prints display imaginative and mythical imagery with oneiric touches reminiscent of heritages as diverse as the European medieval period and the Renaissance (Lucas Cranach, Albrecht Dürer), Russian Lubok[i], popular Mexican stamps (José Guadalupe Posada) and the literatura de cordel (stringliterature) of the Brazilian Northeast. His work with maps, on the contrary, stems directly from poetry, and had its origin in Cuban José Lezama Lima's poem titled Noche Insular, Jardínes Invisibles (Insular Nights, Invisible Gardens). This poem, heard over and over in Lezama’s voice, thanks to a record made by Casa de las Américas, inspired Ibrahim to work on a long series, many versions of which have continued to the present[ii]. The changing maps of our island, in constant metamorphosis, were a refined but provocative metaphor for our incompleteness, the indefinite and imperfect character of our society, our nation and the need for change. The xylographic creation of that imaginary cartography of Cuba, made in watercolour and inks on real maps extracted from the National Atlas of Cuba, was for many years the main creative nucleus around which the work of Ibrahim Miranda revolved. He has also explored other expressions such as painting on canvas, ink and wash drawings, knitted papers, patchwork and other combined techniques, generally based on prints, but xylography and the maps have allowed him to deploy with extraordinary originality his secret restlessness and his philosophical, existential, racial and political reflections, albeit in a veiled, cloudy and inexplicit language.
Ibrahim Miranda was important in the rebirth of printmaking in Cuba of the early 1990s which, according to the critic David Mateo, had the character of a vindication[iii] after years of neglect of this creative expression that previously had a long tradition in our visual arts. Ibrahim was also, along with printmakers Belkis Ayón, Sandra Ramos and Abel Barroso, one of the organizers and curators of the exhibition La Huella Múltiple (The Multiple Imprint), devoted to reflecting and boosting artistic prints in all their variants by means of exhibitions, workshops and the publication of voluminous portfolios with many original prints, a project that despite having received the support of some state institutions, was practically subsidized by the artists themselves.
[i] For this interesting and little known expression of Russian popular printmaking, see the beautifully illustrated book The Lubok, Russian Folk Pictures, 17th to 19th Century, Aurora Art Publishers, Leningrad, 1984.
[ii] Orlando Hernández, Cartografía Nocturna de Ibrahim Miranda, Catalogue of the exhibition at Meza Fine Art gallery, Coral Gables, Florida, United States, 1993 (text in Spanish and English).
[iii] David Mateo, Vindicación del Grabado. Catalogue Galería Acacia, Fondo Cubano de Bienes Culturales, Havana, 1995. Nosotros, los más infieles. Narraciones críticas sobre el arte cubano (1993-2005), CENDEAC, Murcia, 2007, pp 799-802