Hector René Membreño-Canales

A wide, light colored marble slab sits on a grassy area in front of a downtown office building. The grassy area looks to be the edge of a park; parked cars and street lamps can be seen behind and slightly below the structure. The marble block is made up of two shallow, stepped layers that support a taller expanse of marble with the words “A Race Set Free and the Country at Peace Lincoln Rests from his Labors” carved into it. An empty rose-colored marble plinth sits centered atop the text. Large urns with flowers adorn either side of the rose-colored marble mass.
Boston MA 2, from the series "After-Ozymandias", photography, 2021

[Image Description: An empty monument pedestal in front of an office building, flanked by urns with flowers.]

Photographer Hector René Membreño-Canales bravely uses his lens to confront the racist history of Confederate monuments in America. The Honduran-American artist and educator understands that the notion of patriotism in this country is frequently steeped in anti-blackness; this project aims to memorialize the empty plinths as physical manifestations of discriminatory beliefs. The pictures featured, which are regarded as anti-monuments, document both recent and older removals in Boston, Richmond and New Orleans. 

Perhaps the most riveting feature of the collection is how the artist contextualizes the power of space. He understands the weight that emptiness can carry and masterfully captures its poignancy with this series. Membreño-Canales’s work began as a response to the Unite the Right rally, a white supremacist demonstration that took place in Charlottesville in 2017. His time as an Iraq war veteran shaped his perspective on how political and military figures are idolized, influencing how he looks at how public space is used to honor the deceased and historical figures.

By scrutinizing the elimination of these statues, the artist sparks dialogue around the vacuum in which they were erected. Black history is American history, though it is routinely discounted as a lesser, separate entity. Membreño-Canales elevates this omission by showing the visual impact these monuments had. He also explores the theme of permanence through the photographs, as they were built from stone and bronze. 

The artist hopes they eventually will be replaced by something more ephemeral, something that accurately reflects the totality of America’s diverse population. These photos inevitably serve are a catalyst for larger and more complex conversations—ones that center the marginalized groups this country has always worked to erase.

— Candace McDuffie

A rectangular concrete pedestal sits on a small bricked area in the middle of a wide footpath in a city park. Four matching small concrete posts occupy each of the four corners of the bricked area, connected to each other by lengths of iron chain. Tall office buildings surround the park, and a the pathway behind the pedestal is defined by a series of concrete columns on either side of the path, joined by an airy woven arched canopy. There is some unmelted snow on the ground, and a column in the right foreground that suggests the row of columns with arched canopy continues in the other direction, beyond the photograph.
Boston MA 1, from the series "After-Ozymandias", photography, 2021

[Image Description: A grey stone pedestal in front of an arched park walkway.]
A many-tiered, round pedestal is situated in the middle of a street lined with trees, parked cars, and 3-4 storey brick buildings. It rises from the curb level layer to a sloping skirt-shaped level to three small stepped layers, and is topped by a taller stone mass that looks like the base for a sculpture. There is colorful handwritten graffiti covering all of these surfaces, with messages including “RACIST”, “BLM”, and “COPS ARE CREEPY”.
Richmond VA 3, from the series "After-Ozymandias", photography, 2020

[Image Description: An empty, graffitied plinth in the middle of a roundabout.]
A series of around 20 wide, narrow steps lead up to a towering stone column that sits atop four broad levels of square stones set in a brick pattern. Enormous urns filled with flowers are located on four sides of the area delineated by the stones, and the entire structure is set on a well-trimmed, grassy sloped mound near a few buildings of varying heights. Grey sky with dark clouds fills most of the image.
New Orleans LA 1, from the series "After-Ozymandias", photography, 2018

[Image Description: A tall obelisk at the top of a series of steps with greenery on either side, in front of a tall and wide commercial building.]

Artist Biography

Hector was born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras (1988) and grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He served more than a decade as a US Army Photographer working in Iraq, El Salvador, Poland and more.  Hector used the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill to study Photography at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) and earned his MFA from the Dept. of Art & Art History at Hunter College, The City University of New York.

Hector’s work explores official histories, American patriotism, and the Military-Industrial Complex.  His photographs have been exhibited at Triennale der Photographie Hamburg, Osnova Gallery Moscow (2016), Aperture Foundation (2017), The Delaware Contemporary Museum of Art (2017), and ATHICA Athens Institute of Contemporary Art (2019). His work has been featured in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Columbia Journalism Review, NPR, CNN, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. 

Hector teaches Visual Studies and Photography in the Art Dept. at Phillips Academy, Andover.