Art review: Charo Oquet’s ‘Written on Skin and Sacred Gestures’ at Project Row Houses


A review by Molly Glentzer for The Houston Chronicle.

Charo Oquet’s “Written on Skin and Sacred Gestures” is one of six installations in Round 49, “Penumbras: Sacred Geometries” at Project Row Houses, 2515 Holman, Houston, open noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, through June 9.

The word penumbra, which refers to the shadow cast during a partial eclipse, and the mathematical concept of sacred geometries, which influenced artist John Biggers, provide the artists of Round 49 at Project Row Houses with a compelling springboard.

The mojo is most palpable in Charo Oquet’s space, an explosively colorful installation where a constellation of ceramic-headed spirit figures could also be planets in a solar system with a pulsating May pole of a sun at its center, constructed with a raw wood frame, draped fabrics, pennants, vining plastic plants and the flotsam and jetsam of massed yarn blobs. You don’t see this part until you walk into the space and look toward the front window, when it zaps you with its powerful presence.

Oquet has painted the walls and floor with geometric and abstract shapes that appear to be shooting out of the central force. One wall contains small framed paintings of slightly more complex and messy shapes. Colored bottles, each transformed into a pint-sized spirit figure with feathers, yarn and other materials, sit on the windowsills to capture sunlight.

The ceramic-headed figures, each about 2 feet tall, are terrifying but also somehow reassuringly benevolent-looking, seeming quite alive, with their bulbous, malformed heads, feather crowns, sprouting greenery, manes of wildly colored hair and layers of ceremonial necklaces.

In the show brochure, Oquet describes all of the objects as “conduits of energy” she has accumulated over the years from her research into the religious symbols of Vodum (voodoo) and Ethiopian healing scrolls that were commissioned to purge demons from the sick.

A native of the Dominican Republic who lives in Miami, Oquet calls her practice of integrating Afro-Caribbean folk traditions and rituals with participatory social practice an “art of uncertainty.”


“It is a double vision: on the one side the ancestral African, on the other a modern mix that synthesizes beliefs, techniques, visual and performance strategies,” she writes on her website. Oquet’s work also has an activist side: She founded Edge Zones, a 23-year-old organization that brings art to a Dominican community in Miami, much like what Project Row Houses does in Houston.

Visit during a quiet time to absorb it all, or enjoy it with a crowd during the Round 49 Closing Party, 6-9 p.m. June 9. Daily admission is free; party admission is $35, with music from a Latin Jazz band, street food and drinks inspired by Etta’s Kitchen and Shakti Baum inspired by the Afro-Latin Diaspora.

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