I was born on the island of Cuba, in the city of Matanzas a point of entry of African slaves. In my art, I pay homage to the Yoruba culture’ It is part of my identity, one of which I am proud to represent.
I grew up with Ñaña, an old black woman, born a slave. Who took care of me and pampered me when I was a child, and who allowed me to take Eleggua’s (1) candies.
Ger daughter, my beloved Naty who loved and defended my, may she rest in peace, nursed me when my white mother could not.
I have fond memories of Ziomara, cousin Muma from Pueblo Nuevo (9), Wiky “The Black” and Juan Pescao.
I remember Jorocon “Bemba’e Trueno”, one of the “paleros” (3) from my neighborhood eith his cart full of herbs and sticks pulled by a skinny mare. I remember the scary “maja de Santa Maria “(4) owned by Matancita, the most renowned Santero (3) in all of Cuba.
At the celebration of the Jimaguas (1), had the privilege of playing in front of the shrine of Fausto Albelo, with its two white porcelain gorses, so tall they touched the ceiling. That prestigious Yoruba priest had lived on my block with his mother, who was more that 100 years old, in a wooden house, while his Santos (1) lived in their own more comfortable concrete home in the back.
Matanzas is a beautiful city full of rivers and royal palms. At the base of the trunks of these palms, you could see the offerings to the Santos-roosters, pigeon, fruits and pennies “Don’t touch it damn it!” my parents would tell me emphatically.
In the streets you could hear the church bells calling us to mass, and mixed in the sound of the Batas (5), calling the Orichas (1). This was especially strong on the festival day of Chango (1) (Santa Barbara) (2) or Babalu Aye (1) (Saint Lazaro) (2). On these Festival celebration days, the drums beat day and night, and all of us shared feelings of joy, spirituality and harmony. I recall the rumbas de cajon (6) we children took part in, and how some of our neighbors enjoyed while others did not. If you did not keep the beat, you were branded gallego (7), and were not allowed to play.
Spiritual shrines mingled with each other, images of Ochun (1) (Our lady of charity) (2) and Jesus Christ along with Eleggua (1), an ear of corn with a red ribbon, a drawing ofa tongue pierced with a knife, and eye, a broom made of palms, all just in case. My father kissed the images of his saints in the morning and makes offerings of rum or coffee, before partaking himself. The impressive Iremes (3), with their beautifully colored frocks, was dancing at funerals or initiation of new followers, Conversations in Abakua (3), the Yabo (3), with their immaculate white robes, the necklace of Orula (1) on their wrists and women, with turbans that covered their shaved head. Nights I spent in Havana when I was an art student, sleeping in front of the shrine of my cousin Carlos Galban, not knowing what my future held. The black woman, Tomasa, who foretold what would hap to me in Spain, and later in the United State.
All of this is my world. It influences my work. I have a dual personality that I express in my art. The part that is white is the immediate perception the word has. The part that is black lives in my heart. That universal Yoruba culture, that I was immersed in, that permeated my life as a child. What I offer in my work is an amalgam of my life. It’s my sincere interpretation of what I consider myself to be-mulato. That is what I am.
Maferefun and Ache (8) to those who understand and appreciate what I try to do.
1) African deities. 2) Catholic deities. 3) Followers of African religion.
4) Serpents. 5) Sacred African drums. 6) Afro-Cuban rhythm.
7) People without rhythm. 8) Yoruba blessing. 9) Neighborhood of Matanzas city.