Eduardo Muñoz Ordoqui: Sabina’s Letters
May 17 – July 15, 2001
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With Eyes Wide Shut: On the Photographic Series “Sabina’s Letters” (1999-2001) by Eduardo Muñoz Ordoqui

“I shall solve a puzzle with an unfamiliar cipher.”

-José Saramago, A Handbook of Painting and Calligraphy

The photographer places a black & white photo from his family album together with an object selected from his own milieu or chosen at random, then photographs the resulting confusion that arises from the gathering of ghosts and the misleading juxtaposition of time frames.

I don’t think it’s irrelevant to recall that Eduardo Muñoz Ordoqui is Cuban; that is, that he comes from a country where photographs are not “made,” any more than light is “made,” since light “is taken from the shadows.” The keys to the originality of the “Sabina’s Letters” series are surely to be found somewhere among these musings. The powerful narrative of these “Letters” follows Eduardo Muñoz’s earlier work, in which he seeks to make time stand still as he contemplates that human puzzle known as “exile,” a word that, echoing its Greek origins attempts to express our wayward wanderings following our departure from the shelter of a previous domain.

His “Zoo-logos” series (1991-92) attempted to photograph a distortion of or a detour from reality in order to show the viewer the concentration camp conditions of the animals at the Havana Zoo. And “Banishments” (1997-98) set out to duplicate similar detours from reality by placing objects in front of frozen images on a TV set. In the “Sabina’s Letters” series the detours taken by the exiles are all drawn from essentially the same source. The photos from the old family album are dusted off and can once again be seen, but from a great variety of perspectives, including nostalgia, surprise, and oblivion, as well as from the viewer’s own personal interpretation.

The originality of these “Letters” therefore, is not in exposing what has never been seen, as implied in the undoubtedly innocent romantic meaning of the word. Rather, it is in the irony of their classical understanding: they aren’t trying to show us things we’ve never seen. They are trying to place us (with eyes wide shut) in front of the dustiest of mirrors, perhaps to reclaim, even if just for an instant a few things – a few letters – that we hadn’t gotten around to signing while we had our eyes fully open. Or perhaps to overwhelm us with the evidence that those things – and those letters – are taken from exotic places only to have them returned at some point, paradoxically, to the very heart of our memory (that highly selective album of associations and additions and subtractions). Or maybe so that we can make those leaps from the far limits of our external vision to the beginning of what we see inside. Or maybe vice versa.

-Héctor Febles

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