Belkis Ayón: Fowler Museum presents first solo U.S. museum exhibition of the Cuban artist


“Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón,” curated by Cristina Vives, opens October 2 and runs through February 12, 2017. The show, featuring 43 prints that explore the founding myth of the Afro-Cuban secret society, Abakuá, opens at UCLA’s Fowler Museum. The museum is the first in the United States to host a solo exhibition dedicated to the work of the late Cuban visual artist. As Rowanne Henry writes, during Belkis Ayón’s short but fertile career, she “produced an extraordinary body of work central to the history of contemporary printmaking in Cuba.” Programming around the exhibition includes talks by guest curator Cristina Vives and the director of the Belkis Ayón Estate, Dr. Katia Ayón, professor of history and anthropology Andrew Apter, and independent art historian and curator Judith Bettelheim.

“Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón” opens Oct. 2 and runs through Feb. 12, 2017. The exhibition presents 43 prints that encompass a wide range of the artist’s graphic production from 1984 until her untimely death in 1999. Ayón mined the founding narrative of the Afro-Cuban fraternal society called Abakuá to create an independent and powerful visual iconography. She is highly regarded for her signature technique of collography, a printing process in which a variety of materials of various textures and absorbencies are collaged onto a cardboard matrix and then run through the press. Her deliberately austere palette of subtle tones of black, white and gray add drama and mystery to her narratives, many of which were produced at very large scale by joining multiple printed sheets.

“For a black Cuban woman, both her ascendency in the contemporary printmaking world and her investigation of a powerful all-male brotherhood were notable and bold,” said Marla Berns, Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director of the Fowler Museum. Nkame follows a lineage of Fowler exhibitions that have explored artistic representations and evocations of African-inspired religions in the diaspora, such as Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou and Transcultural Pilgrim: Three Decades of Work by José Bedia.

“This is an important moment to spotlight the aesthetically stunning and poetically resonant prints of Belkis Ayón,” Berns continued, “especially with today’s heightened attention on Cuba and Cuban culture, and the historic reopening of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.”

Nkame is organized by the Belkis Ayón Estate and Dr. Katia Ayón with the Fowler Museum and is guest curated by Cristina Vives, an independent curator and art critic based in Havana. The exhibition is arranged into five sections that examine major themes and periods of Ayón’s artistic production. [. . .]

Belkis Ayón was born in Havana on Jan. 23, 1967. Her first solo exhibition in Havana, “Propuesta a los veinte años,” which means Proposal at the Age of Twenty, took place in 1988. In 1993 she participated in the 16th Venice Biennale and received the international prize at the International Graphics Biennale in Maastricht, Holland. Ayón’s work has been included in numerous group exhibitions and is in museum and private collections worldwide. The artist committed suicide in 1999 at the age of 32.

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