Eduardo Muñoz Ordoqui


Artist’s Statement

Besides being an exploration on exile and migration, my artistic work is also an attempt to come to terms with the past, a summarized account of life experiences, passed down from my family and culture. It could be considered a visual journal of social integration, part of a struggle to find meaning and continuity in a context of displacement and change.

Restless series

Austin-San Antonio, Texas, USA (2006-present)

The images belonging to this series have in common the partial representation of some moments in the life of the communist leader Joaquín Ordoqui Mesa (Santo Domingo, Las Villas, Cuba 1901-La Habana, Cuba 1973).

During the government(s) prior to the Cuban revolution of 1959, the life of Joaquín Ordoqui Mesa was linked to the uncertain fate, alternatively legal and clandestine, of his party; also, to the questionable methods and strategies derived from its radical position. Ordoqui Mesa suffered jail and persecution. On several occasions, he experienced the rigors of exile, living in the United States, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, France and Mexico. He left Cuba in 1953, only to come back in 1959. It is very probable that thanks to his links with high ranks of the soviet leadership, the government headed by Fidel Castro named him vice minister of the armed forces in 1961. Three years later he was denounced as an agent of the American intelligence services. He was never offered the benefit of a trial. Lacking proof, the Cuban government condemned him under “moral conviction”. He was declared a traitor and died in home imprisonment, abandoned by coreligionists and forgotten by the public opinion. Until the end, he maintained his innocence. His name was erased from Cuban history.

Curiously, my most vivid memories of Joaquín Ordoqui, my maternal grandfather, are reinforced by photographic images. I started this project like a filmmaker working on a period movie, with an action that takes place not only out of the contingent present but also at a time severed from his or her vital experience. I chose images corresponding to a distant past I knew only from oral and documentary references. This is perhaps why it could be said that this part of the series has a multiple, familiar and predominantly feminine perspective; it is mainly based in the testimonies of my mother, grandmother and my grandfather’s widow; also in the collection of images that they chose to and were able to preserve. The archives contain a heterogeneous material mostly composed by photographs describing the family’s private life: meetings with friends, celebrations, everyday events, and travels. Other images possess a more public character: they are photographs of electoral campaigns, meetings with colleagues and members of other political parties, violent and mournful incidents, rallies, detentions, assemblies, official visits to different countries, and encounters with dignitaries.

Most of the documents are photographic prints. The decisive factors in the selection of each image to be used were, in a non-hierarchical order: historical relevance, narrative content, symbolic potential and aesthetic quality. Each image was subjected to an analytical process that would dictate its positioning and particular function within the whole.

The photographic prints were digitized to eliminate imperfections and damage derived from aging and inadequate preservation of the original photographic material. It was also a matter of achieving a neutral image, without the mediation of external signs linked with the passage of time, signs that in many cases cause emotional associations. The restored digital files were later transferred to 35 mm slides.

While in one way these images offered certainties, at the same time every photograph from the archive also asked new questions. To a certain degree, the images belonging to the Restless series can be seen as a consequence of this duality. The archive images contained in the slides were points of departure, unfinished elements that triggered other series’ of visual associations.

Building scenes in the studio was the next step. These scenes combine the projection of images from the archives with other projections of photographs taken by me, especially for the occasion, as an answer, update and commentary on the original events. Personal objects, raw materials and carefully chosen spaces, are the projections’ physical supports, but generally these supports do not function as reflective, passive or dissembled screens; they transfer their unique weft to the projections, make them tangible and tridimensional; they are also of material and gestural emphasis; they inform on the illusory character of the constructions, their fragile and ductile nature, their condition of spectacle.

Diverse photographs and scenic elements summoned in the studio evidence the tense interaction between the representation of historical and private facts, and collective and individual memory. In this photographic re-creation of collateral historical events, the very same original subjects –and not their substitutes- are the protagonists, but the photographed events are ostensibly modified, divided, and truncated; conclusions are anticipated; plot and outcome coexist in the same visual plane.

The process that goes from the building of the scene to its reproduction by means of the photographic camera involves meticulous planning, improvisation and chance. The concept of lighting the scenery is eclectic; it refers to theatrical and cinematographic traditions. Light is used as a more or less perceptible suture that reconciles different times and perspectives; it helps melt this diversity into the wholeness, which is ultimately recorded by the camera. The final photograph remains as a trace.

Portable Worlds

Austin, Texas, USA (2003-2005)

The photographs from Portable Worlds, narrate, in a concise and figurative manner, experiences similar to those of accounts of journeys. They rescue readings, houses, life experiences. They recall, without explicit reference or prioritized order, the same land incursions as shipwrecks. With an indistinctly dramatic and ironic tone, they uncover in these events how tenuous the dividing line is between what is necessary and what is superfluous, between baggage and burden.

Technically, the resulting pieces are multiple exposures, straight photographs created in studio with a large format camera and no digital intervention, involving and alternating the reproductions of pictures from my family’s archives or images created by me, both superimposed on spaces and objects by slide projectors. In these works, time seems suspended in a precarious equilibrium that, unlike previous series, contains more of the present and contingency than remembrance.

Low Tide series

La Habana, Cuba-Austin, Texas, USA (2001-2003)

Most of Low Tides images have been taken in different decades in “El Malecón”, emblematic sea wall running along Havana’s north shore, wall that gained a new meaning after the revolution of 1959 as a symbol of barriers between Cuba and United States. In 2001, after my father’s death, I returned to the Malecón, where he taught me to swim, and took pictures of the children still playing there.

Back in United States, Havana is again for me a city under siege by time, history and memory. Its current existence is frozen. It escapes my actual experience and knowledge. In Low Tide the sea wall appears as the physical, obvious and visual obstacle that symbolizes this lack of contact with the life that indubitably flows behind. This wall is also an argument for the display of my personal memories, for the return to my childhood and the construction of a work that is definitely the most autobiographical I have ever pursued.

I keep the appropriation trend started in previous bodies of work, but now the process includes also self portraits: “updated” portraits built from old ones taken of me during childhood, sometimes while I was alone, sometimes, surrounded by friends. In this way I intend to recreate some of the multi focal and external aspects that shape any identity, not necessarily and strictly my own.

At the same time with the recycling of other’s archives, I started including in the sets new pictures made by me. The pictures in Low Tide are made of juxtapositions and simultaneities. The linearity of the narrative in the series is broken by the autonomy of meaning and the visual structure of each image.

For the first time in five years, I came back to work exclusively in black and white. This choice is part of a conscious effort to overcome the clear distinction between time and space that would be established by the visual contrast of color and black and white elements --oppositions that were a constant in my earlier series--. This time, the black and white allows me to build a more seamless photographic stage where the distinctions are more subtle and are given by differences of lighting, sharpness and granularity. Sometimes, this seamless character is increased by the flatness of a scenario created using exclusively slides projections (and eliminating from the set any tridimensionality suggested by added objects or spaces). Besides the use of multiple exposures, the standardized use of multiple projections accentuate structures that resemble collages and photomontages.

Sabina’s Letters series

Mexico City, Mexico-Austin, Texas, USA (1998-2001)

Almost ten years ago, my sister Sabina, who was reluctant to ever writing letters, chose to film a video in which she narrated her experience of going back for the first time to our native land. A long time passed after the video was made, and by accident, I gained access to her letters. First came this cinematic narration from a trip, which also was an emotional journey; afterwards, by the same random turn of events, photographic negatives emerged from the family and strangers' archives. It was the spark, the seminal idea, soon to become the material substrate, the historical ground (and no less the metaphorical one) nourishing this body of work.

Sabina’s Letters intents to stand as a late response, in fixed images and with no precise addressee in mind, to the letters filmed by my sister; an extension, as it were, of her narrative of missing and forgotten encounters, a continuation and a complement of them; letters multiplied by my sister and me.

The resulting pieces (20”X 24”chromogenic prints) are photographic constructions involving and alternating, as a point of departure, the video stills themselves -coming from a television set- or the reproductions of pictures in the archives, either in juxtaposition or superimposed on spaces and objects, helped by a slide projector. The elements surroundings the projections function as corollaries of the original information. As a result, a dialogue is established between the interlocutors; all suspended in time (so to speak), it can be observed as a discrete form of conversation in which none of the participants has neither the first, nor the last word; remembrance and contingency finally united.


Tucson, Arizona, USA (1996-1998)

These images correspond to a project about exile. The principal goal consists in transmitting the idea of a social or political exile. Yet it also includes exile of a psychological nature, less concrete or circumstantial and, perhaps more universal and rooted. It is a condition of permanent exile. Therefore, in spite of it having originated in my family and personal experience - first as a direct descendant of Spanish Republican immigrants, and presently as one living away from my country of origin-- the work must not be limited to referencing a social group, an ideological tendency, or a precise minority or nationality, although conjointly because of the stated reasons, it may allude some of them.

In order to obtain these goals, I position the camera in a domestic interior. The only link with the exterior world, the escape from these spaces which are generally oppressive, illusive, is the television screen. Through it, previously selected video stills of various films are transmitted. Such stills are predominantly black and white or at times there is a hint of color. I intend to generate a visual contrast and a time distinction with respect to the natural coloration of the objects. These images represent indistinctly the plane of memory, or the enclosure of the external reality, and they combine with the surrounding elements, with the intention of suggesting conflict, state of mind and the condition of alienation. Similarly, images produced by a studio zoom spot projector will be included to vary the effects, perspectives and scales. The usage of televised and projected images as virtual space also intends to allude to the irreversibility of time and of history, the discontinuity of the experience of the exiled and to the active obsessive nature of the past in such a condition --nevertheless it may take us to the present, and also, to the future.


Havana, Cuba (1991-1992)

The 1990’s were excruciating years to be living in Cuba. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and its political allies in Eastern Europe, the Cuban economy confronted a new and deeper crisis, one of the worse in the country’s history. In its struggle for survival, the Cuban government proclaimed the “Special Period in Peacetime”. This effort for restructuring the economic policy impacted the population with an increase in shortages and scarcity at all levels.

The Zoo-logos series is a visual account, at the same time a visceral and intellectual account, of the decline of the ideals of the Cuban revolution. The old Havana zoo, its animals and their guardians, temporary visitors, and their interaction, are symbolically imprinted with the conflicts emanated from the crises of the Cuban society as a whole. In this series, the zoo becomes a micro-cosmos with its own and arbitrary cycle of life and death; it is a scenario of rage and compassion, impunity and sacrifice; it is a space of isolation and claustrophobia.

Besides being metaphor of a socio-political climate, the images from this series also intend to document the actual and immediate tragedy of the animals living in the zoo. An empty cage refers to an idea of generic and universal confinement as much as to the mere fact that this was a decimated environment (i.e. one of the main attractions of the park, its only elephant, had passed away few months earlier). The camera registered the killing of old and rachitic horses used to feed felines. Paradoxically, the very same and concealed slaughterhouse where the horses were executed at dawn wasn’t far away from a children’s playground. The Cuban zoo visitors were witnesses of a desolated and hopeless habitat in many ways mirroring their own.