Lisbon

View of “Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa,” 2017. Photo: Bruno Lopes.

View of “Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa,” 2017. Photo: Bruno Lopes.

Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa

Kunsthalle Lissabon

View of “Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa,” 2017. Photo: Bruno Lopes.

Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa operates at the border between performance and installation art. His works often seem like enclosed sets brought to life via the performative, or they may, as in his recent exhibition “Shit-Baby and the Crumpled Giraffe,” appear as the remnants of a past event, shaped through an act of remembering, analyzing and contextualizing one’s (national) history through personal memory.

Ramírez-Figueroa was born in Guatemala in 1978—that is, in the middle of its lengthy civil war of 1960–96. His practice has long been marked by that history. But only in this latest work has the artist engaged with the theme through his childhood memories. Reminiscent of a Freudian dream, the installation Shit-Baby and the Crumpled Giraffe, 2017, seemed calculated to draw its viewers into what one could only assume to be the artist’s subconscious. We became silent but complicit participants in the staging of the event—voyeurs but also something more.

At the center of the exhibition sat the figure of a naked little boy, a life-size sculpture made of polystyrene. In the space around this form were a number of colorful pots—or, rather, potties—carefully arranged in groups or placed individually around the space along with small sculptures of feces, also pieces of polystyrene, some painted in bright hues, others in the brown you’d associate with the represented form. Some of these were discreetly piled in a corner, some randomly scattered around the space or even suspended like snakes from the ceiling. A few seemed to be inching their way up and out of one of the potties. The absurdity of this scenario was underlined by the presence of two larger sculptures, a tall white giraffe and a strangely humanoid stork carrying a bag of dirty diapers in his beak.

The sense of unease provoked by this fecal scenario was thus assuaged by a colorful and playful aesthetic, which allowed viewers to actively prolong their gaze and feed their curiosity. At the same time, the mixture of natural and unnatural colors and the uncanny forms seemed to insist on an underlying sense of darkness—the oppressive atmosphere typical of this artist’s work, with its suggestions of historical traumas that manifest themselves in very personal ways. In contrast to a good deal of the art being made these days, however, Ramírez-Figueroa’s work is about more than just the subjective reorganization of objective and somewhat politically correct truths. In refraining from making his narrative explicit, he succeeds in addressing and unveiling the discomfort involved in evoking past transgressions. And in doing so explicitly within a context of art and beauty, he makes the question of what is revealed and what is concealed, what is said and what remains suppressed, precisely the crux.

Markéta Stará Condeixa