Thursday, September 20, 2007

Santeria Garments and Altars: Ache is All

Santeria Garments and Altars is a literate, accessible, beautifully photographed book by a man who is a member/initiate in a house of Oshun. Its subtitle is, ‘Speaking Without A Voice.’ How appropriate! The emphasis is the striking photographs of the variety of altars to the different deities, members of a variety of houses preparing for, or engaged in aspects of worship.

By way of background information -- A ‘house’ is a group of devotees of a particular god or goddess under the leadership of a ‘babalawo’, or priest/priestess. Oshun is another one of the Seven African Powers who represents the archetypical female principle and the power of eros. Interestingly enough, abstinence or asexuality, and a virginal principle of female sexuality has no icon, nor any particular social importance.

Another interesting feature is that the author is a male practitioner, much in the tradition that the gods choose individuals to serve them regardless of gender. My own Catholic upbringing was full of gender separation, nuns as brides of Christ, servants of the male hierarchy, etc. While there are some tasks separated by sex, it does not appear to be as rigid, as attenuated as in a Christian/Catholic context.

One off the major tenets of this religious practice is the construction of altars, which every believer is required to do. There’s a synthesis between aesthetic and spiritual significance. It is considered one’s duty to create, as service to the deity to whom one has pledged oneself. A further illustration of the nexus between creativity and belief is the Santeria/Yoruba belief in ‘ache’, the universal life force present in all things. Each devotee is assumed to have within them the power to create a beautiful altar, one infused with ‘ache.’

In my performance pieces, there are ‘anchor ‘ points--static elements that have life infused into them. (In REM/Memory, there is a central, supine figure, hidden in a mass of blankets, who comes alive as the piece starts, and the nightmare begins. In Resurgam, a chaos of white fabric is stripped away to reveal a captive figure who finds release as the piece begins.) I see a similarity between a finished altar containing ‘ache,’ and a performance’s ‘anchor’ pieces being the place where it all comes alive, more specifically, where it reflects at least the possibility of sacred ritual.

There are several points of connection for me here. When the author created an altar to Oshun, it was clear that it could also be seen as a ‘site-specific installation.’ Size of the space, mood of the space, prominent observation points are all taken into consideration. These are the same consideration I make with each piece, the same considerations any installation artist might make.

In the design of an altar dedicated to Oshun, ‘found’ elements are brought into the piece that symbolize her attributes. Since Oshun represents eros, obvious choices illustrate sensuality. Honey, honeycombs, silks and laces are standard items in such an altar. I constantly bring found items from daily life into performances, hoping to create common imagery for myself and the audience as it unfolds . In Resurgam, during the 'communion’ section, I offer a papaya sliced in half to the audience, sharing its womb shape with them as the symbol of The Living Body--juicy, ripe, the source of all things, ever replenishing.

Lastly, I want to comment on the Santeria idea of ‘coolness.’ Essentially, it is the principle of balance, harmony, a reflection of the connectedness of all things. An altar, no matter how ornate, is not considered ‘cool’ if it does not have these attributes.

Even though my approach is spare, I try to layer things enough to suggest complicated ideas and experiences. It's work with a consistent point of view and root motifs that I try to communicate in the deepest possible way. Hopefully, what emerges is interconnectedness between myself, the audience, and a unifying force that exists in the moment of performance, a force that I believe is Spirit.


About the author:

Dr. Flores-Peña was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Studies: University of Puerto Rico, B.A, Catholic University of Puerto Rico, MA. Ed. UCLA M.A and Ph.D. Publications and lectures on Afro-Caribbean Ritual Art and Afro-Cuban religious cultures and Latino Folklore. Lecturer at WAC, Center for Afro-American Studies, and Adjunct Professor at Otis College of Art and Design.

ISBN-10: 087805703X
ISBN-13: 978-0878057030


News from our New York friends:

Tuesday, September 25th @7pm
ACENTOS Bronx Poetry Showcase
The Uptown's Best Open Mic and Featured Poets
Tomás Riley & Leticia
Hosted by John Rodriguez

Y que gente??? We are still doing it strong in the Bronx and we have no intentions of stopping. Well, maybe when we are dead but until then, aqui estamos. Come out next Tuesday to hear the wonderful poetry of two visiting poets. So you know we have to give them a warm welcome.

Tomás Riley is a poet, writer, educator and a veteran of the Chicano spoken word collective The Taco Shop Poets (TSP). A finalist for the 2004 California Voices Award from Poets & Writers Magazine, his first book Mahcic debuted on Calaca Press in December 2005.

Leticia Hernández has presented her work throughout the country and in El Salvador at venues such as the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Highways, and the Guild Complex . Her first chapbook of poetry, Razor Edges of my Tongue, is available from Calaca Press. A Ph.D. candidate in Literature, she has taught Women Studies and Latino Literature classes at UPENN and San Francisco State University. She has worked with youth and community based organizations for over fifteen years and is currently the Executive
Director of GirlSource, a community-based organization that supports young women in San Francisco.

The Bruckner Bar and Grill
1 Bruckner Boulevard (Corner of 3rd Ave)
6 Train to 138th Street Station
FREE! ($5 Suggested Donation)

Coming from MANHATTAN:
At the 138th Street Station, exit the train to your left, by the last car on the 6. Go up the stairs, to your right, to exit at LINCOLN AVENUE. Walk down Lincoln to Bruckner Blvd, turn right on Bruckner. Walk past the bike shop. The Bruckner Bar and Grill is at the corner: One Bruckner Blvd., right next to the Third Avenue Bridge.

Coming from THE BRONX:
By Train:

At the 138th Street Station, exit to your RIGHT, by the FIRST car on the 6. Go up the stairs, to your right, to exit at LINCOLN AVENUE. Walk down Lincoln to Bruckner Blvd, turn right on Bruckner. Walk alongside the bridge, past the bike shop. The Bruckner Bar and Grill
is at the corner: One Bruckner Blvd., right next to the Third Avenue Bridge.

By Bus:
Bx15 to Lincoln Ave. and Bruckner Blvd. Walk one block west, past the bike shop, to the Bruckner Bar and Grill. Bx1, Bx21, Bx32 to 138th and 3rd Ave. Walk five blocks south along
the left side of 3rd Avenue to the end (Bruckner and 3rd). The Bruckner Bar and Grill will be on the corner.

For more information, please call Fish Vargas 917-209-4211.

For the Acentos Crew
Fish Vargas

Lisa Alvarado

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