Harold Mendez’s Photographic Tribute to a Beloved Artist

During a cultural exchange trip in search of Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayón’s final resting place, the Mexican-Colombian artist photographed ceremonial sites and adorned his prints with ritual markings—a touching tribute to one of his most formative influences.

Here, we ask an artist to frame the essential details behind one of their latest works.

Bio: Harold Mendez, 44, Los Angeles.

Title of work: Afterwards, we shall read your bones (For Belkis Ayón).

Where to see it: “Harold Mendez: And, perhaps, here, between” curated by Gean Moreno at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (61 NE 41st St) until May 1.

Three words to describe it: Homage, offering, reverence.

What was on your mind at the time: During a MacArthur Foundation–sponsored cultural exchange trip to Cuba in which I participated in 2017, I was wondering if I would find the grave site of the Cuban artist Belkis Ayón, a formative influence on my practice and an artist with whom I’ve maintained a running dialogue through my work in different ways. 

An interesting feature that’s not immediately noticeable: Affixed to the surface of the photograph are three telsons—tail-like appendages with long serrated edges—which are reminiscent of bones but are seemingly camouflaged by the markings of a nearly one-ton counterweight. Every work in this exhibition is mediated in one way or another and appears as one thing, yet it’s meticulously made as something else entirely.

How it reflects your practice as a whole: It engages with the long arc of hemispheric history, from ancestral cosmologies to the diasporic knowledge that forms such an important part of New World cultures. Working in photography, sculpture, and installation, I explore cultural memory, ritual, and transnational experiences—affirming the fragility of life.

One song that captures its essence: “Movement 5” by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra.

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