Voodoo Traditions on Display at Havana’s Fayad Jamis Gallery

Regina Cano

“Sirêne Ambá Lai-la” / “Sirena at home”

HAVANA TIMES — Luna Nueva (“New Moon”), an exhibition by visual artist Camilo Fis, opened at the Fayad Jamis Gallery in Alamar on the 17th of the month, almost coinciding with the lunar phase referred to in the title.

Holding lit candles, visitors went past a Cuban flag to silently enter the quiet space of the gallery-made-temple, where a secret was revealed by the strokes of each of the paintings of this artist from Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba.

Camilo Fis, a faithful representative of the group of artists who make up Palma Soriano’s Ennegro Group for whom voodoo is the religious practice that unites priests, poets, painters and installation artists in their common interaction with nature, mysticism and artistic creation, celebrates 20 years of work by this collective with this solo exhibition.

The exhibition, comprising medium and large-format acrylic paintings (triptychs and diptychs), portray the strength, instinct and inspiration revealed by the religion’s deities. They are works attesting to the spirituality sustained by the faith shared by the Ennegro community.

Making use of his artistic and religious tools, Camilo Fis reveals to us two planes, in a universe where the subtle and the physical coincide at the peak of existence: worlds of beings that are at once brave, violent and beautiful, beings who materialize the chromatic textures of these paintings with fury and tenderness.

Visitors are invited to discover strokes, lines and features that stray from the academic, a naturalistic, almost naive use of pure colors, and a wide use of complementary and earth colors, and the penumbra afforded by “candle light”, as the author explains.

Some Comments by Camilo Fis

Camilo Fis

“I walk down this road for Beatriz (wife) and the girl (daughter), who are my “Thunder” and my “Feather.”

“This is the result of the influence that the old priests have had on me (…) it is a continuation of the work we’ve been doing through the Ennegro project, transposing the cosmogonic meaning of the room (temple) within ourselves to recreate it through strokes (…) stains of hope, hope that we will lead better lives and that understanding will prevail among us (humans).”

“These are the same strokes Loa traces. It’s a question of taking that already translated dimension and making it physical (…) these traces came from god, they came from Haiti and hid in the Cuban mountains (…) it’s the wisdom brought to the Caribbean from Africa. The trace of the Loas – the one represented and used in a community – are recognized by people, because they carry it in their cells, because of things they have experienced earlier in their lives, which is how they are able to see them (…) in this translation. The babies are representations of ancient writings that are passed on through the sacred.”

“(…) I developed (or failed to develop) these works simultaneously, for I am both an installation artist and a painter.”

“(…) if it hadn’t been for Papito Milanes (Ugan, sculptor and director of the project), for the voodoo community in Santiago de Cuba, for the graph born in the room (temple) under candle-light, for the consistency of the room, I would never have been able to take these pieces to a different context.”

Comments by Other Artists

“(His paintings) combine essential human nature (…) with his religious worldview (…) The essence of the way in which he experiences the universe (…) can be felt in every stroke. (His paintings) contain naïve and expressionistic elements that combine with an atmosphere that envelops them, with mysticism and the universal – without thereby ceasing to be from a specific place of origin, the Caribbean.” – Rigoberto Rodriguez.

“I see no false posturing in his works. I believe he defends his condition as a man from the Caribbean with evident spontaneity. He doesn’t force the gesture. He doesn’t force colors. He simply expressed what he feels and this expression is effective, a merit one rarely finds in an artist.” Miguel Roura

Other Details

The gallery space was also dressed with plantain tree leaves. These accompanied each piece, helping balance the works with a concrete element. The artist also set up an altar to the Loas, fitted with traditional Haitian drink, sweets, seashells and candles, which some visitors approached.

Visitors were also treated to the poetry of Pedro Lopez Cerviño and Sinecio Verdecia, as well as the latter’s talented Kalimba playing, and to African music, played throughout the opening.

The exhibition was shot through with the vibrations, strength and inspiration of the spirituality behind it. The works transport us to a medium many of us are unaware of, a less urban place that has not been polluted by technology: that is the gift Camilo Fis gives us, through the wisdom of voodoo.

Click on the thumbnails below to view all the photos in this gallery. On your PC or laptop, you can use the directional arrows on the keyboard to move within the gallery. On cell phones use the keys on the screen.

Regina Cano

Regina Cano: I have lived my entire life in Havana, Cuba – the island from which I’ve still never left, and which I love. I was born on September 9, and my parents chose my name out of superstition, but my mother raised me outside the religion professed by her family. I studied accounting and finance at the University of Havana, a profession that I’m not engaged in for the time being, and that I substituted for doing crafts, some ceramics, and studying a little English and about painting. Ah! – concerning my picture: I identify with Rastafarian principles, but I am not one of them. I wear this cap from time to time, but I assure you I just didn't have a better picture.