Vida de muertos (Life of the Dead)
December 3, 2013 – January 8, 2014
In Cuban and Caribbean culture, the African legacy has generated manifold poetic and creative expressions. Indeed, music, dance, food, festivities and religious practices that constitute our popular culture have largely been shaped by those who crossed the ocean in chains and arrived on the Americas over the course of more than 300 years, bringing with them their most valued treasure: the veneration of the dead, which conditioned a culture of resistance so characteristic of the West Indies.
In this exhibition, Alberto Lescay evokes the traumatic crossing of African slaves in ships of the dead, their precarious lives on the plantations and their unrelenting love of freedom, by means of an abstract expressionism that relies heavily on ocher, black, sepia and red brushstrokes. Seasoned spectators are presented with all the drama of Cuba and the Americas in the colonial period, when Spain ruled our island “with a bloody iron arm”, a period in which the plantations and African ethnic associations played a major role in shaping our identity, because it was here that Africans began to adapt their belief systems to a new socio-cultural context and where ancestor worship shored up their faith and that of their descendants by establishing a fluid dialogue between the “living and the dead”, be it in Palo, Ocha, Espiritista or Voodoo ceremonies.
At the core of our most popular creeds is a focus on our ancestors, our dead, be it by feeding the cauldron or nganga in the Palo Monte and Regla Muertera de Oriente religions, making sacrifices to the Loa in Voodoo or invoking the spirits in Espiritismo de Cordón. Failing to perform these symbolic rituals would deny us the favors of “the dead who accompany us”. Thus, Joel James once wrote, “What would be of the lives of the living without the lives of the dead?”, because death is the very raison d’être of our popular religions. The dead hold on to the fears, hates, desires and passions they harbored in life, the countless events of their biographies, while the ceremonies are intended to establish communication between them and the living, which can take place in one or a variety of religious acts.
Today, as we pay tribute to the ancestors of our identities, along with Alberto Lescay, we ask them, as we would in a spiritualist chant, for their light and wisdom, so there may be peace and brotherhood among the peoples of the world, and so that the values of our popular cultures may be preserved.
Raúl Ruiz Miyares
Santiago de Cuba, June 30, 2013