Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bedia at Heriard-Cimino and the Ogden Museum

          As a young adult in his native Cuba, Jose Bedia was initiated into the secret rituals of Palo Monte, a folk religion originally from Central Africa based on the worship of forest spirits. As with voodoo, Christianity is part of the overall mix, as is Native American lore. This is true all over the Caribbean; the voodoo-influenced Christianity of Haiti, so much in the news lately, is hardly unique. What is unique is Jose Bedia’s ability to synthesize the ancient mythology of his cultural roots with a striking, expressionistic approach to art making. Like so much Cuban and Cuban-American art, Bedia’s imagery is fairly austere. Unlike much Cuban-American art, which typically focuses on political oppression and the exile experience, Bedia has fashioned an elaborate visual vocabulary by expanding his original Palo Monte orientation into a universal mythology that includes both ancient and modern imagery while maintaining the familiar Cuban sparseness of line.       
       In YEMAYA ENOJADA, above, at Heriard-Cimino, Yemaya, the mother goddess of the sea, is depicted as a siren or mermaid of cosmic proportions. Originally a Nigerian deity, Yemaya appears in Haitian and New Orleans voodoo as well as in Afro-Cuban religion. Here she raises a sword at some fighter jets above, whose presence has clearly offended her. If a sea goddess confronting fighter jets sounds like a stretch, it all makes complete sense in Bedia’s spiritual universe. In ALGUN ORDEN HABRA ALLI, top, a human figure reclines under a dusky sky studded with mystical geometric forms linked by traceries of color suggesting the strands of obscure forces that invisibly influence worldly destiny.
At the Ogden Museum, the imagery is just as bold and vivid with the added benefit of a large installation featuring one of Bedia’s mythic figures painted on the wall. Nearby, the intriguing clay sculpture SOUL HOUSES of another Cuban-American artist, Mario Petrirena, silently bear witness to this unlikely efflorescence of the spirit world. ~Bookhardt

Jose Bedia:
Through March 3
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300;
Through April 11
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539.9600;

As seen in Gambit