Not on display
- Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa born 1978
- Video, high definition, colour and sound (stereo)
- Duration: 5min, 57sec
- Lent by Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of the Latin American Acquisitions Committee 2021
On long term loan
Life in His Mouth, Death Cradles Her Arm 2016 is a single-channel video with sound of a performance by Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa. Lasting just under six minutes, it shows the artist holding a bundle wrapped in a shawl or shroud as he stands still in the passageway between the high wall-graves of the General Cemetery in Guatemala City. The performance begins at night and ends at dawn, and throughout the course of the video it becomes apparent that the artist is holding a block of ice which gradually melts to create a small puddle between his feet. This durational performance has been edited down to a few minutes for the video and consists of mostly static footage of the scene, with some close-ups of the artist and the drips falling from the shawl to the floor. At the end of the video the artist is no longer present, with only an off-centre view of the setting. The work was a reflection on the death of the artist’s brother and the high mortality rate of children in Guatemala as a result of the civil war (1960–96), with the artist explaining that he wanted to create a ‘blanket that could weep’ (artist’s statement for his exhibition at the New Museum, New York 2018, https://archive.newmuseum.org/sounds/14330, accessed 28 June 2020).
This work forms part of the artist’s three-year performance cycle titled Requiem for Mirrors and Tigers 2015–17 that reflects on the Guatemalan Civil War. Life in His Mouth, Death Cradles Her Arm was originally performed in 2006 in Vancouver, Canada as part of the group exhibition Slits II at Western Front gallery. The documentation of this performance was lost when the artist’s archive was destroyed in an accidental fire. This gave him the opportunity to recontextualise the work within the setting of the General Cemetery in Guatemala City as recorded in this video. Discussing Life in His Mouth, Death Cradles Her Arm, the artist indicated his interest in the history of the cemetery, which was originally made for the aristocracy but has since become a place for those with little means to bury their dead or where plots can be rented, suggesting that for some even these places of rest are temporary. (Quoted at https://archive.newmuseum.org/sounds/14330, accessed 28 June 2020.)
While the work has a personal significance, it also transforms a historical fact into a universal exploration of the role of memory in dealing with personal loss and difficult moments in history. Curator Catherine Wood has described Ramírez-Figueroa’s work as embodying ‘the cross-contamination of artistic, familial, and political impressions’ to form ‘powerful sculptural images that summon the emotional imprint of such conflicted experiences as a ground from which to grow a world of his making.’ (Catherine Wood, ‘Funny Games’, in Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa, exhibition catalogue, New Museum, New York 2018, p.15.) Like the earlier Blue Abstraction 2012, also in Tate’s collection (Tate L04369), Life in His Mouth, Death Cradles Her Arm exemplifies Ramírez-Figueroa’s use of performance in scenarios that create a contemplative space to reflect upon issues around identity, history and memory. The video can be shown as a projection or on a monitor, played on a loop. It exists in an edition of five plus one artist’s proof, with Tate’s copy being number three in the edition. The first edition is in a private collection in Guatemala and the second is in the collection of the Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg, Germany.
Matthew McLean, ‘Don’t Go Seeking Answers in the Earth’, Frieze, 14 October 2016, https://frieze.com/article/dont-go-seeking-answers-earth, accessed 2 July 2020.
Betty Martin, ‘Naufus Ramirez-Figueroa’s Color and Tone Metaphors’, online article for Artist Residency programme, 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica, California, 2017–18, https://18thstreet.org/naufus-ramirez-figueroas-color-and-tone-metaphors/, accessed 29 June 2020.
Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa: The House at Kawinal, exhibition catalogue, New Museum, New York 2018.
Fiontán Moran and Michael Wellen
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