34th São Paulo Biennial to exhibit work by Belkis Ayón

For the first time, works by Cuban artist Belkis Ayón (Havana, 1967-1999) will be part of the São Paulo Biennial, shown in the collective exhibition “Faz escuro mas eu canto” [It is dark, but I sing]. The event, in its 34th edition, will open on September 4 and will end on December 5, 2021. The São Paulo Biennial, one of the most prestigious in the world and an indisputable reference of art in the Americas, will bring together 91 artists representing 39 nationalities. For full article, in Spanish, see Rialta Noticias.

As the Estate of Belkis Ayón reported to Rialta Noticias, 16 pieces by the artist will be included in a group show at the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion, in Ibirapuera Park. It consists of 14 engravings, one of them in a large format, and two matrices, also in a large format. Among them, La cena (1988), La sentencia  (1993) and Sikán (1993).

In just in a few years, Ayón created “a renovating path for Latin American printing,” stated the Estate. “Her peculiar aesthetic discourse, grounded in the traditions of the Abakuá culture, her outstanding mastery of colography technique, and her prolific work as an educator, made her one of the most prominent figures of 20th century Cuban art.”

The painter studied at the San Alejandro Academy in Havana and at the University of the Arts of Cuba, formerly the Higher Institute of Art, between 1986 and 1991. Her artistic career developed mainly in the nineties, until it was interrupted on September 11, 1999 by her suicide, at age 32.

One of her greatest creative endeavors consisted in the research and reworking / resignifying of the myths related to the Abakuá Secret Society. Ayón privileged the entity of Sikán, a princess who, according to ñáñiga tradition, went to fetch water from the river and inadvertently captured King Obón Tenzé, reincarnated as a fish, which guaranteed the prosperity of her people. The princess was sacrificed, in vain, with the intention that the secret would be passed on to mankind and not disappear.

“Belkis Ayón’s production revolves around the presence of a secret veiled by multiple signs of silence and darkness,” reads the curatorial note published on the Biennial’s website. “Over time, Ayón not only adopted colography as her main language, but took it to unexpected bounds, working on a large scale and developing elaborate combinations of colors and textures then nuanced with combinations of white, black and gray. At the same time, she adopted elements of the Abakuá culture as a recurring metaphor for her works, which shaped entities generally described only with words.”

In an audiovisual interview granted in 1999 to Swiss curator Inés Anselmi, Ayón declared her status as a postmodern artist. Her narrative cosmos, with a fundamental proem in her reading of El Monte (1954) by Lydia Cabrera, assumes the religious intertext as a tool to intertwine it with (other) social and political orders; to penetrate them interstitially.

Likewise, the artist explained in a 1993 manuscript: “Although my work deals with a subject as specific as the beliefs, rites and myths of the Abakuá Secret Society, it does not mean that it is dedicated solely to the sector of the population that professes and practices this faith. I am especially interested in the questioning of the human, that fleeting feeling, the spiritual. For this reason, it may be appreciated by a universal public, although it is very difficult to escape from the impression, the forms, the image at first sight.”

During the 34th São Paulo Biennial, Princess Sikán will be seen as a kind of alter ego of Belkis Ayón, as if she were disincarnated in her own reflection.

The group exhibition that will occupy the entire Ciccillo Matrazzo Pavilion from September will be combined with dozens of individual exhibitions at associated institutions in São Paulo. This exhibition has as a precedent the show entitled “Faz Escuro mas eu canto” (It’s dark, but I sing), which began its evolution in February 2020 and has developed both physically and virtually.

With the intention of reflecting a “poetics of open rehearsal and relationship”—notions that guide its general configuration—the São Paulo Biennial, founded in 1951, has a curatorial team made up of Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, Paulo Miyada, Carla Zaccagnini, Francesco Stocchi and Ruth Estévez, who at the opening of the event will give continuity to a work program started more than a year ago.

[Shown above: “La cena,” 1988; Belkis Ayón. Photography: José A. Figueroa. Courtesy of Belkis Ayón Estate.]

Translated by Ivette Romero. For full article, in Spanish, see https://rialta.org/la-34a-bienal-de-sao-paulo-exhibira-obras-de-la-cubana-belkis-ayon/.

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