[Blackstudies-l] A Cuban Artist, Anthropologist, and Cosmologist’s Journey to West Africa (on José Bedia)

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Tue Sep 12 22:29:55 EDT 2017


lisaparavisini posted: " A review by Monica Uszerowicz for Hyperallergic.
In the Yoruban tradition, Ogun — or Ògún, Oggun, or Ogum — is the orisha
(spirit) of metals, a powerful warrior often depicted brandishing a sword
he forged himself. He is the deity for hunters, drivers,"
Respond to this post by replying above this line
New post on *Repeating Islands*
<http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/> A Cuban Artist,
Anthropologist, and Cosmologist’s Journey to West Africa (on José Bedia)
<http://repeatingislands.com/2017/09/12/a-cuban-artist-anthropologist-and-cosmologists-journey-to-west-africa-on-jose-bedia/>
by
lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>

[image: bed_110-720x322.jpg]

A review by Monica Uszerowicz for *Hyperallergic*
<https://hyperallergic.com/390562/a-cuban-artist-anthropologist-and-cosmologists-journey-to-west-africa/>
.

In the Yoruban tradition, Ogun <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogun> — or
Ògún, Oggun, or Ogum — is the orisha (spirit) of metals, a powerful warrior
often depicted brandishing a sword he forged himself. He is the deity for
hunters, drivers, and blacksmiths, and while he is not quite a gatekeeper,
nor a figure who stands at the crossroads between the human and spirit
realms, Ogun is said to be the first orisha to come to earth, searching for
a space for humans to inhabit, using a metal instrument to clear the path
for other orishas.

There is something distinctly human — even humanitarian — in the mythos of
Ogun, an orisha of work and workers and earthly materials. Coincidentally,
many African slaves were brought to Cuba specifically to work as
blacksmiths, building a railroad system. Ogun might have been their orisha,
watching over them. He features prominently in *José Bedia Fieldwork:
Selections from the de la Cruz Collection and the Artist*
<http://nsuartmuseum.org/exhibition/jose-bedia-fieldwork-selections-from-the-de-la-cruz-collection-and-the-artist/>,
an exhibition now on view at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale
<http://nsuartmuseum.org/>. *Fieldwork *showcases the unique space Bedia
occupies: the Cuban artist is, concurrently and synergistically, artist and
anthropologist, spiritual cosmologist and religious practitioner.

An integral part of Cuba’s “Generation of the ’80s”
<http://www.newsweek.com/next-wave-havana-197036>— a group of young artists
whose work addressed a spiritual language specific to the nation — Bedia
was initiated into the Regla de Congo
<http://www.cuban-traditions.com/religions/afrocuban/the_regla_conga_or_palo_monte/the_regla_conga_or_palo_monte.html>
 or Palo tradition <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palo_(religion)>, a
multi-denominational religion that developed among Central African slaves
brought to Cuba. While *Fieldwork *features Bedia’s collection of African
traditional art — amassed while traveling with curator and
anthropologist Manuel
Jordán <https://africa.uima.uiowa.edu/topic-essays/show/20> — there are
also his own pieces, side-by-side, creating a kind of retrospective that
showcases both his anthropological and deeply personal interest in the
rituals and traditions depicted here. The exhibition includes over 45
drawings from five sketchbooks, on view for the first time, drawn over ten
years as Bedia traveled through Zambia, Kenya, and Botswana.

And there is Ogun. On loan from the de la Cruz collection, the Ogun series
is comprised of massive ink-and-acrylic works on paper, displaying Ogun
forging his machete, and then — in several other pieces — becoming the
industrial objects he symbolically assists in creating. In one image, his
head is the front of an airplane; in another, it is the bow of a ship; in
still another, his entire head is a helicopter. Ogun is protector of all of
these — transportation machine and tool alike — though he also animates the
hands that created them, the bodies that ultimately imbue them with their
physical and spiritual value.

Bedia first went to Africa in 1984 as part of the Cuban army’s artistic
brigade
<http://nsuartmuseum.org/exhibition/jose-bedia-fieldwork-selections-from-the-de-la-cruz-collection-and-the-artist/>,
and
he stayed in Angola. After quitting the brigade, Bedia joined the military
caravans that supplied military units to that country. He’d travel
throughout the continent over the next several decades, spending time in
Botsanwa, Kenya, Tanzania, Egypt, South Africa, and the aforementioned
Zambia, sometimes with Jordán — all the while accumulating, it seems, a
deeper understanding of his own spiritual history.

The links between Bedia’s Cuban heritage and its ancestral roots in West
and Central Africa is revered in *Fieldwork*: drawings by Zambian artist
Benfrey Chitofu (commissioned by Bedia) of the rituals of the Lunda people
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunda_people>; drawings of symbols by Maliya
Chitofu, Benfrey’s mother; a video featuring Makishi mask traditions
<https://museum.stanford.edu/news_room/africanmasks.html> and dances
amongst the Lunda; a Makishi mask built by another Chitofu family artist,
Charles; and, framing a doorway, a massive piece by Bedia featuring Nkuyo
Nfinda <http://blog.themysticcup.com/palo-monte/history-lucero>, a deity in
the Monte branch of the Palo religion. In Bedia’s “Nkuyo Nfinda Hunting”
*(2017),* an onyx-colored figure stands on one side of the exhibition’s
entrance, holding a rope that stretches over the archway to the other side,
where it grasps the hooves of a donkey made of sand and reddish tukula
powder. Many of the larger works on paper contain silhouettes of animals
that seem both human and animal, orisha and man; here, they come to life.

The sketchbooks Bedia filled while traveling also document religious
practices he found throughout the continent, but the images — usually made
with watercolor — are mostly of everyday moments: green landscapes, hippos
in profile, women dancing, panthers drinking from ponds. Viewers are
invited to check them out in vitrines, in frames, or on a scrolling screen.
Though they’re clearly painted with a quick hand, they are soothing to look
at. There’s an animism to most of the objects in *Fieldwork*, as if Bedia
suffused them with either the practices of Palo or simply a veneration of
his own ancestry. But even these watercolors, pale in tone and devoid of
sacred symbolism, also feel somehow alive. They are, in effect, part of a
kind of cosmology Bedia has created himself: one that fuses history,
religion, and mythos, a past he revives by the act of living it.

José Bedia Fieldwork: Selections from the de la Cruz Collection and the
Artist
<http://nsuartmuseum.org/exhibition/jose-bedia-fieldwork-selections-from-the-de-la-cruz-collection-and-the-artist/>*continues
through October 8 at the NSU Art Museum <http://nsuartmuseum.org/> Fort
Lauderdale at Nova Southeastern University(1 East Las Olas Boulevard, Fort
Lauderdale, FL
<https://maps.google.com/?q=1+East+Las+Olas+Boulevard,+Fort+Lauderdale,+FL&entry=gmail&source=g>).*
*lisaparavisini <http://repeatingislands.com/author/lisaparavisini/>* |
September 12, 2017 at 10:10 pm | Categories: News
<http://repeatingislands.com/category/news/> | URL: http://wp.me/psnTa-xsD

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