Architectural Ruins and Urban Imaginaries: Carlos Garaicoa’s Images of Havana


  • Jodi Kovach Kenyon College



Contemporary Art, Architectural Studies, Cuba, photography, Walter Benjamin, Severo Sarduy, Neo-baroque, ruins


Contemporary Cuban artist Carlos Garaicoa juxtaposes photographic images of Havana’s architectural ruins with timidly articulated drawings that trace the outlines of the dilapidated buildings in empty urbanscapes. Each of these fragile drawings, often composed of delicate threads adhered to a photograph of a site after demolition, serves as a vestige of the sagging structure that the artist photographed prior to destruction. The dialogue that emerges from these photograph/drawing diptychs implies the unmooring of the radical utopian underpinnings of revolutionary ideology that persisted in the policies of Cuba’s Período especial (Special Period) of the 1990s, and suggests a more complicated narrative of Cuba’s modernity, in which the ambiguous drawings—which could indicate construction plans or function as mnemonic images—represent empty promises of economic growth that must negotiate the real socio-economic crises of the present. This article proposes that Garaicoa’s critique of the goals and outcomes of the Special Period through Havana’s ruins suggests a new articulation of the baroque expression— one that calls to mind the anti-authoritative strategies of twentieth-century Neo-Baroque literature and criticism. The artist historically grounds the legacy of the Cuban Revolution’s modernizing project in the country’s real economic decline in the post-Soviet era, but he also takes this approach to representing cities beyond Cuba’s borders, thereby posing broader questions about the architectural symbolism of the 21st-century city in the ideological construction of modern globalizing society.

Author Biography

Jodi Kovach, Kenyon College

Dr. Jodi Kovach is the Curator of Academic Programs at the Gund Gallery, Kenyon College. Her scholarship focuses on contemporary Latin American art, specifically in the Mexican context. She has also taught art and design history, and has contributed to multiple exhibition catalogues, including Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2009), The Geometry of Hope: Abstract Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection (Blanton Museum of Art at University of Texas and Grey Gallery, NYU, 2007), Reality Bites: Making Avant-Garde Art in Post-Wall Germany (Mildred Lane Kemper Museum, Washington University, 2007), and Inside Out Loud: Visualizing Women’s Health in Contemporary Art (Mildred Lane Kemper Museum, Washington University, 2005).




How to Cite

Kovach, J. (2016). Architectural Ruins and Urban Imaginaries: Carlos Garaicoa’s Images of Havana. Contemporaneity: Historical Presence in Visual Culture, 5(1), 72–84.