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
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.