Joy, 2018. Mixed media, 36 x 64 x 80 cm. Photo: Dan Bradica, © 2023 Ricardo Brey, Courtesy Alexander Gray Associates, New York

Memory Is a Weapon: A Conversation with Ricardo Brey

Assemblage sculptor, installation artist, and draftsman Ricardo Brey attended art school in his native Havana and went on to join the experimental art group Volumen Uno, which distanced itself from the precepts of Cuban socialist realism. Since the late 1970s, his practice has focused on research into the origins of humanity and our place in the world—how we understand and categorize reality, as well as ourselves. The writings of Claude Lévi-Strauss, Alexander von Humboldt, Pehr Löfling, Charles Darwin, and Giovanni da Verrazzano, among others, have been essential to his work.

In 1990, Brey participated in an exhibition organized by curator Jan Hoet in Belgium; he moved to Ghent the following year, then featured in Hoet’s documenta IX in Kassel in 1992. Brey’s works frequently gather in series, such as the “Adrift” and “Kouros” sculptures, or take the form of vitrine installations—such as Universe (2002–06), which consists of 1,004 drawings illustrating an “entire” universe (including every bird, fish, insect, and plant), and its supplement Annex (2003–16)—and intricate boxes, including the ongoing series “Every life is a fire,” which unfold to reveal books, drawings, sculptures, and performative proposals.

Michaël Amy: All works of art engage with memory. Yours do so in a particular way, don’t they?
Ricardo Brey:
There is an old Spanish saying: “All the past is better than the present.” That is why we return to the past—as a remedy for the present, and the future. We are, genetically speaking, nomads. We came out of Africa, to conquer the world. By necessity, we have memories of the place we were before. . .

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