Widely acknowledged as one of the most significant sculptors of his time, Agustín Cárdenas had a long and successful career marked by works in a variety of media. The artist's facility with marble, other stones, wood, and bronze made him a significant and highly honored creator throughout his lifetime. In addition to receiving a number of important awards for his work from his native Cuba, he was also the recipient of several recognitions in France, including the first prize in sculpture in 1961 at the Paris Biennial and the bestowal of the Order of Arts and Letters from the French government in 1976.
The title of this work, Shamanica, translates in English to "shamanic" and reveals Cárdenas's interest in the indigenous religions of the Caribbean. Born in Matanzas, Cuba, one of the main sugar ports of the country, Cárdenas was raised surrounded by the enduring legacy of African rituals and traditions. Arriving in Paris on a fellowship awarded by the Cuban government, the artist became increasingly aware of his "blackness," an awareness that leads to some of the most salient characteristics of his works during this period. As in the work of his compatriots of the Cuban avant-garde, Cárdenas's work is a visual testament to the issue of double consciousness, as is evident in the variation of voices encountered in his expression. Early works incorporate Surrealist tendencies in a very sensual and organic way, without any concrete reference to race or ethnicity. Later works, notably his "totems" explore the artist's African heritage more directly. Towards the very end of his career, he again favors abstract forms, influenced by his European environment.
Simultaneously playful and profound, this sculpture has the sensibility of a monumental work, evoking the large-scale sculpture of artists like Henry Moore. This is not surprising, considering that Cárdenas was mentored in avant-garde sculpture by José Gómez-Sicre, who indoctrinated students about the contributions of significant European modernists like Hans Arp, Constanine Brancusi and Moore. As though in a pas-de-deux, the figures in Cárdenas's sculpture connect their arms, their backs regally arched towards one another. From another perspective, the figures also appear to be leaning in, perhaps over the glowing embers of a ritual act.
Agustín Cárdenas was born in 1927 in Matanzas, Cuba, the son of slaves from The Congo and Senegal. He trained at the Academia de San Alejandro from 1943 to 1949. An important figure from the beginning, he formed part of the creative group Los Once from 1953 to 1955. He was also part of the Asociación de Grabadores de Cuba from 1950 to 1955. His maquettes, drawings and illustrations leave no doubt that he had a genuine talent for two-dimensional work also. In 1955, He left Cuba and settled in Paris, where he enjoyed a prosperous career. Indeed, in 1956 his works were exhibited in Paris at the Galerie L'Eoile Scelle, cementing his relationship to the legacy of Surrealism. He eventually returned to Cuba prior to his death in 2001.
Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, Ph.D.