Cárdenas was born in Cuba in 1927 into a family that came originally from West Africa. He studied sculpture at the San Alejandro School of Fine Arts. He had his first solo exhibition in Havana in 1955 and after this received a scholarship to travel to Paris. He went to Europe the same year and it was here that he developed his particular creative style. He lived in Paris until 1994 and exhibited in more than 100 group exhibitions, and 40 solo shows all over the world.