March 10, 1998
Couturier Gallery, Los Angeles, California, United States
Belkis Ayón. Desasosiego/Restlessness.
When Darrel Couturier asked me in October 1997 for the title of this exhibition I didn’t have one yet; in all honesty, I hadn’t even thought about it. That day, I was committed to attend the opening of the first exhibitions of two of my students. After finishing my duties as spectator and “guardian angel”, -that is to say, professor- I went to my friend Cristina’s house where Rafa was waiting for me to take my letter to Darrel with a title for this exhibition1. I left there without anything happening and I fell into a state of total despair, although visibly imperceptible- something typical of my moderate personality, except when I am laughing or creating the large colographic prints.
I thought about the works that I had already finished and wondered what feeling they all had in common-even though the theme, the general style of the whole body of work done over the years has been consistent- and I associated with what I had been feeling during the last months: Desasosiego (Restlessness), something that unconsciously began to appear in my work.
Since the beginning of the third year of engraving studies at the Academia San Alejandro de La Habana. I worked using a theme that is one of the components of Cuban culture, the African contribution: the carabalies; and from them the Secret Society of Abakuá, established for men only in the 1830´s in Cuba.
I aspire above all to give my vision, my points of view as observer, presenting in a synthesized form the aesthetic, plastic and poetic aspects I discovered in Abakuá, persistently relating them to the nature of man, with vivid personalities, with feeling which sometimes grips us, feelings we don’t know how to define, with these fugitive emotions… with the spiritual. I incorporate into my work symbols from other cultures to express my ideas with better richness and clarity.
I incorporate into my work personalities like the Leopard Man, a figure identified with imposing power and aggression- a “macho” who sacrificed Sikán, the woman who discovered the secret (of abakuá) and dies at the hands of the men at the altar so that the secret would remain among them and not disappear. The secret consisted of a voice, the SACRED VOICE, produced by the Fish discovered by Sikán coming back from the river. The Fish was the reincarnation of Old Obón Tanzé 2, from Abasí the Supreme God. The transmission of the sacred voice was finally transmitted to the skin of a goat, a skin which vibrated on the sacred drum EKUÉ.3
My images are realized in the form of colography, an engraving technique that consist of a type of printed collage formed from a wide variety of materials arranged and pasted on a cardboard support.
The image of Sikán is evident in all these works because she, like me, lived and lives through me in restlessness, looking insistently for a way out.
La Habana, Cuba, January 1998
1- Cristina Vives, curator of the exhibition; Rafael Oceguera, collector.
2- Obón Tanzé was an old king of the Ekoi. He died a long time ago, his spirit incarnated in a fish which the woman Sikán found in a river. Men, followers, took her away, killed her and founded a religion. The spirit of obón passed to the fish and later to the sacred drum, the EKUÉ (from Lydia Cabrera: Sociedad Secreta Abakuá. Burgay y Cia, 1958, pág. 87-88.
3- EKWÉ-EKUÉ: is the most sacred, sublime, unutterable and hermetic of the Abakúa: to him goes the powers of the dead and the powers of the earth, water, wind, sun, moon and stars, in him is Abasí, IYÁ the fish, and ÚYO the voice , Ekué, the sacred drum, has a single membrane or drumhead of goat skin. (from Enrique Sosa: Los Ñañigos. Ed. Casa de las Américas, La Habana, 1962, pág175