SMoCA to host solo exhibit from late Cuban printmaker

An example of Belkis Ayón’s work in Nkame, a solo exhibit that SMoCA is hosting. (Submitted Photo)

The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art will host Nkame, a solo exhibition dedicated to the work of the late Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayón, who, during her short career, produced an extensive body of work central to the history of contemporary printmaking in Cuba and abroad.

The exhibition has received critical praise worldwide since its premier in the U.S. in 2016. In 2017, it was named one of the “Top Ten Exhibitions in the World” by ARTNews magazine and one of the “Top Ten Exhibitions in New York City” by The New York Times.

Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón opens Saturday, Oct. 13 and runs through Jan. 20, 2019.

The exhibition presents 48 prints and audiovisual materials that encompass a wide range of the artist’s graphic production from 1984 until her death in 1999, according to a press release.

Ms. Ayón mined the founding narrative of the Afro-Cuban, all-male fraternal society called Abakuá Secret Society to create an independent visual iconography.

She is recognized for her signature technique of collography, a printing process in which a variety of materials are collaged onto a cardboard matrix and run through a press, a release states.

Her deliberately austere palette of subtle black, white and gray, adds drama and mystery to her works, many of which were produced on a large scale by joining multiple printed sheets.

“Ayón’s masterful collographs gave the Abakuá legend, which has been trans¬mitted orally, a powerful iconography it did not previously have. But it must be said that her intention was not perpetuation of the myth, but rather transgression of it,” Cristina Vives, exhibition curator, Cuban-based independent researcher and art critic. said in a prepared statement.

“Her treatment of the myth requires sharp, active and critical engagement by the viewer. Unfortunately, during her short life, her work was not always afforded such rigorous understanding.”

Ms. Ayón’s choice of subject matter — the history and mythology of Abakuá — was a direction she took in 1985 while still a high school student at the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts.

A picturesque view of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. (File photo)

This brotherhood arrived in the western port cities of Cuba in the early 19th century, which enslaved Africans carried from the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria, and since then became a nucleus of protection and resistance for its members.

A brief synopsis of the founding myth of Abakuá begins with Sikán, a princess who inadvertently trapped a fish while drawing water from the river. She was the first to hear the unexpected and loud bellowing of the fish, the mystical “voice” of Abakuá.

Because women were not permitted this sacred knowledge, the local diviner swore Sikán to secrecy. Sikán, however, revealed her secret to her fiancé, and because of her indiscretion was condemned to death. In Ms. Ayón’s work, Sikán remains alive, and her story and representation figure prominently.

“Belkis Ayón’s work evolved from a stage of repre¬sentation of the myth during her years as an art student, to a later mature artistic moment in which the myth served as a vehicle for the post-modern travesty which characterized young Cuban artists in the 1990s, after the collapse of European socialism,” Ms. Vives said.

“Beyond the legend, her work manages to ex¬press the profoundly social and liberating message to which she aspired, and which is contained behind the veil of a myth.”

The exhibition is accompanied by the most recent book on Ms. Ayón, Behind the Veil of a Myth, written by Ms. Vives and edited by the Estate of Belkis Ayón; The Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston; and the Estudio Figueroa-Vives in Havana, Cuba.

This fully illustrated publication considers the most significant moments of the creative process of the artist, following a virtual tour of the exhibit Nkame. The approach interconnects the artist to the Cuban and international context, and to the unmistak¬able signals of the present, as well as the universality that her work commu¬nicates from its deep social and liberating vocation.

“Nkame is not simply an homage to Belkis Ayón but a possibility to dialogue with her work in quest of that affirming message of life and future that humanity needs,” Ms. Vives said.

The Estate of Belkis Ayón, Havana organized the exhibition with the Station Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition had its premiere in the U.S in 2016 at the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles

It has also been on display at El Museum del Barrio, New York; the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Mo.; and the Station Museum of Contemporary Art.

Upcoming venues include The Museum of Contemporary Art, Santa Fe, N.M., and The Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon, Eugene, Ore.. The museum tour is organized by Landau Traveling Exhibitions, Los Angeles.

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