Chevere! Exploring Afro-Cuban Culture
May 16 - July 15, 2013
New York-based visual artists Clara Morera, Cepp Selgas, Bernardo Navarro, and Jorge Valdés will exhibit their works at the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge. Heavily influenced by their Cuban heritage and upbringing, these four artists explore African icons and religious syncretization, and present us with artworks inspired by their formative years on the Island. Curated by Astrid Martinez-Jones of Latin Art Space, the exhibition Chévere! (a word of Yoruba origin meaning cool or great) highlights the African religious traditions and folklore that are so entrenched in Cuban society. Chévere will feature acrylic on canvas and paper, as well as assemblages of found objects, mosaics and mix media artworks. The artist reception on May 16th from 6:30-8:30pm will coincide with Cambridge Open Studios weekend.
The influence of African ancestry in Cuba is of upmost importance in understanding Cuban cultural codes. Music, literature, and visual arts have benefited from the reinterpretation of African iconography, where the syncretization of cultures, religions and beliefs is a fundamental element. This theme has been explored in and out of Cuba for many years, and it continues to be of significant importance for creative individuals in the arts. Each artist brings a unique interpretation of the theme to the exhibition in accordance with his or her artistic style and medium.
Addressing such themes as faith, magic, and myth, Clara Morera’s work gives visual form to the intangible mystery of African and Christian religions, as well as Eastern mysticism. In this exhibition, Morera depicts Orishas (gods of the Santeria religion) as queens, interpreting them through the Spanish tarot cards. She will also showcase an Elegguá (the Orisha who opens pathways) a mixed media work of great importance. Morera is a well-established artist, recognized in Cuba and internationally for her interpretation of different belief systems and icons, such as the hand, chalice, eye, heart, crosses, and candles. She trained at the famed Academy of San Alejandro in Havana and has lived in the New York Metropolitan area since the early 1990’s.
Jesus (Cepp) Selgas—who immigrated to New York in the 1980’s—also focuses his current artworks on the Orishas as a celebration of Afro-Cuban culture. His mixed-media acrylic paintings on assembled canvases represent Yemayá (Orisha of the Sea), Ochún (the seductress and Orisha of Love), Shangó (the warrior and most powerful Orisha), Ossaín (the Orisha of nature), and Oggún (the Orisha of war and metal). Marked by repetition and fragmentation, Selgas’s compositions incorporate symbols—moons, stars, eyes, palm trees, ribbons, necklaces—that call upon the rich vocabulary of objects connected to specific Orishas and to the Santería practice in general. His bold interpretations of the Orishas are representative of their power and significance in Cuban culture.
Jorge Valdés offers us his works of beautiful wall sculptures and assemblages of found objects. A self-taught artist who immigrated to the US in the ‘90’s, Valdes is showcasing icons that are representative of the syncretization phenomenon so prevalent in Cuban culture and religion, such as angels, roosters, fish, doves, Orishas, crosses, and saints. On display will also be Valdes’ rendition of Yemaya, a powerful and detailed assemblage honoring the Orisha of the Sea, who is syncretized with the Virgen of Regla in Catholicism.
Experimenting with color and design, Bernardo Navarro brings us contemporary interpretations of African ancestry. His current paintings take on the subject of African iconography in masks and sculptures. Working primarily with acrylic on canvas and pencil sketches, his artwork depicts the theme in an abstract manner. His strong images and clean lines are indicative of his artistic style. Navarro—also self-taught—immigrated to the USA in 2004 and has recently been chosen to partake in New York’s El Museo del Barrio 2013 Biennial.
With the participation of these four talented artists, Chévere strives to provide both conceptual and concrete interpretations of the impact that African ancestry and culture has had on contemporary Cuban art and culture.