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.
Ibrahim began this project with the assistance of his sister, Idania Miranda, a tailor, during a visit in 1997 to the house where he was born in Pinar del Río. The idea was to recover the patchwork techniques used by dressmakers in the neighbourhood to make bedcovers from discarded clothing. Ibrahim added to the bedcovers “sewn drawings”, thus changing their character. When they were finished, he lent the bedcovers to friends in Havana to be used before they were shown publicly. The idea revolved around how these bedcovers related with the night and sleep and with the personal experiences of each user.
What was interesting about this project has more to do with the level of the unconscious than with premeditation. Without the artist’s knowledge, his work started to spread an important but neglected issue. His bedcovers project went beyond artistic originality, or a gesture to recover a handicraft tradition (generally female), or to give these objects of previous practical use artistic value. The main interest – at least regarding Afro-Cuban culture – lies in the hidden story of these humble textile artefacts, whose origin is not only popular, of poor people, but is also bound to a tradition of African origin that has remained invisible or silenced in Cuba. As professor Robert Farris Thompson has pointed out, this tradition stems from the "rhythmic" fabrics of the Mande culture of Mali that spread through many areas of western Africa until it arrived in America and the Caribbean through the slave trade . Its presence has been well documented in the south of the United States , and is equally present in Brazil, Suriname, Haiti and Cuba, although in our case its bonds with Africa have never been pointed out. This technique has not only been part of the making of bedcovers and other small household objects (pot holders, doormats, etc.), but has also been used in Afro-Cuban religious contexts, especially in shawls, skirts and shirts that the santeros and paleros use when working with the powers of Oyá or the dead (egguns and nfumbes), since the alternate combination of different colours (generally 9, in vertical or horizontal stripes or squares) has the power to protect the practitioner from malicious spirits. This symbolic tradition of African and Afro-Cuban origin has been reactivated instinctively by Ibrahim and reinforced through the inclusion of the fantastic imagery of his “sewn drawings” that often include mysterious religious messages.