Printmaking is a physical process that demands an ongoing oscillation between brute force and delicacy. The pendulum–shocking and subtle– manifested Belkis Ayón’s body and mind, as she has based most of her work on the entirely male, secret Afro-Cuban Abakuá society. Its lore of a princess, Sikán, is used as an ongoing vantage point by Ayón. In the tale, Sikán has been charged with revealing the secrets of Abakuá—what the artist refers to as a means of recovering a sacred voice, a new spiritual and social autonomy. But Sikán’s downfall (and ultimately, death) at the hands of the male members of the Abakuá robbed her of that sacred voice, and are signified with the absence of mouths in Ayón’s work. This deformation is visible in the bodies carved by a printmaking technique. They do not require the company of an audience; their eyes are not even wandering to its general direction. The figures are tilted downwards, weary of their secret detachment from society. Despite their lack of facial features, not a single character in Ayón’s depiction stirs feelings of fear or animosity. These wild things unearth a surprising source of comfort; compassion. In the case of Mi alma y yo te queremos (“My Soul and I Love You,” 1993), a shaded mountain overlooks a meager figure resting between the bushes. Its colossal figure blankets most of the surface of the work. It is providence, casted in negative light. And in the case of the black chained being in La Sentencia “Apártame de todo pecado” (“The Sentence ‘Save me from all sin,’ 1994), two creeping white snakes act as company. They mark the boundaries of the frame and, therefore, what is possible; what can be made. As in printmaking, in the beginning, there is darkness. Only then is meaning carved out. Life begins from its absence.
- IMAGE CREDITS
Cover: Belkis Ayón, ¡Ekwe será mío!, 1986, Courtesy Belkis Ayón Estate
Image: Belkis Ayón, Sin título (Sikán, Nasakó y Espíritu Santo [Ohne Titel (Sikán, Nasakó und Heiliger Geist)], 1993, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst Aachen, Leihgabe der Peter und Irene Ludwig Stiftung, Foto: Simon Vogel © Belkis Ayón Estate, Havana, Cuba.