José Manuel Fors, Objectos, 2007

Artist/photographer José Manuel Fors has been awarded the 2016 Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas for his life’s work, and in particular for “the experimental work he has carried out in photography and installations.”

Fors was selected from a roster of outstanding nominees by a jury of distinguished artists, scholars, critics, and curators comprised of Ever Fonseca, Ernesto Fernández, Nelson Domínguez, José Villa, Osneldo García; Adelaida de Juan; Wiliam Pérez, Nelson Ramírez; Chrislie Pérez, Grethel Morell, Blanca V. López, Caridad Blanco, Margarita González, and chaired by Pedro de Oraá, recipient of the 2015 Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas.

José Manuel Fors
Courtesy LAACS Travel

The other nominees for this year’s award included Eduardo Roca (Choco), Zaida del Río, Alberto Lescay, Lesbia Vent Dumois, José Ángel Toirac, Alexis Leyva Machado (Kcho), Manuel Hernández, Roberto Salas, Rafael Zarza, Ernesto Rancaño, and José A. Choy.

A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts San Alejandro (1976) and the Havana Institute of Museology (1986), José Manuel Fors began to exhibit in the early 1980s. He was one of 11 artists who participated in Volumen I, the groundbreaking exhibition that is commonly considered to mark the beginning of Cuban contemporary art.

Subsequently, Fors has gone on to exhibit in some 30 one-person shows and more than 60 group exhibitions internationally. His works are found in major collections in Europe, the US, Canada, Japan, and Brazil.

José Manuel Fors, Manos (Hands), 1992
Courtesy The Farber Collection

Major solo exhibitions in Cuba include El paso del tiempo / The Passage of Time (Centro Wifredo Lam, 1995), Los retratos / Portraits (6th Havana Bienal, 1997), Las cartas / Letters (Casa de las Américas, 2004), Historias circulares / Circular Histories (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, 2006), Pormenores / Details (11th Havana Bienal, 2012); and internationally, Los objetos / Objects (Bélgium, 2003), and Ciudad fragmentada / Fragmented City (California, 2012).

José Manuel Fors, Bajo la sombra de cien billónes de árboles (Under the shade of a hundred trillion trees), 2007

Fors incorporates photography into his work, assembling compositions or installations focusing on themes of landscape, memory, and the passage of time. He has delved into the photographic archives of his grandfather, Alberto José Fors (1885-1965), a noted forestry scientist, and has used other family letters, postcards, and memorabilia in his work.

José Manuel Fors, Sin título, 2014

He also uses natural materials: His 2011 series, Cubos, incorporated dried leaves into richly textured cube-shaped assemblages.

José Manuel Fors, from the Cubos series, 2011
Courtesy Pan American Art Projects
José Manuel Fors, Memorias, 2011, video installation seen through dried mango leaves
Courtesy Pan American Art Projects

Fors’ aesthetic calls on both personal and historical memory, where “the anatomy of the intimate rises to the surface as the true space of the man,” as curator/critic Corina Matamoros has observed.

In an interview for Juventud Rebelde, Fors explained why he focuses much of his work on nature: “I grew up among trees, books, drawings. Homenaje a un Silvicultor (1985), the exhibition dedicated to my grandfather…, marked the beginning of this journey through memory and the passing of time.” He reflects on time because “it’s part of my interior world. I move among things I’ve saved, among objects that end up finding their space in my work. Seldom does something beyond my home interest me, which is my little homeland. In it I usually find all, or almost all, I need to create.”

As the 2016 winner of the Premio Nacional, Fors is expected to receive a major exhibition in Havana in the future.

José Manuel Fors, Fragmentos, 2016
Courtesy Couturier Gallery
José Manuel Fors, Paraguas, 2015
Courtesy Couturier Gallery