Jose Bedia’s “Transcultural Pilgrim” at the Miami Art Museum chronicles the artist’s explorations of and participation in spiritual worlds, and his quest for cross cultural and philosophical knowledge for over 30 years.
The major career retrospective consists of 35 art works and selected artifacts from the artist’s personal collection. The masks, figurines and ledger drawings he has collected on his travels from Africa to South America have inspired his work, and the inclusion of these autobiographical references in “Transcultural Pilgrim” offers viewers a chance to get to know the artist on a deeper level.
“Transcultural Pilgrim” has a distinct anthropological quality, in the artifacts as well as Bedia’s art which references various Caribbean, African and American cultures such as the Mbunda, Chokwe,Cheyenne, Lakota and Kiowato. He sees parts of himself in other cultures and combines elements he finds in those cultures and merges them together within himself and his art, creating a rhizomatic, multicultural world.
“The incredible melding of cultural ideas and symbols in Jose Bedia’s work has a special resonance in the distinctly diverse Miami community, where so many nationalities, races, heritages and religions come together and Bedia, himself, lives” says Thom Collins, director of MAM . “ 'Transcultural Pilgrim’ reveals the unexpected parallels between the cultural practices of disparate communities from around the globe and, in doing so, creates new parallels to contemporary life.”
The paintings, drawings and mixed media installations which comprise the exhibition take the viewer on a journey into Africa, the Americas and the artist’s native Cuba. As a Palo Monte practitioner since 1983 Bedia also shares his beliefs and intimate knowledge of African syncretized religions in the Caribbean through his work, opening a discourse about colonial history.
Colonization defines much of the written history of the Caribbean and Africa. The shared history of exploitation, the trans-Atlantic slave trade and displacement has shaped and altered ancient cultures, and created new ones. African customs and cultures merged with European traits in the Caribbean, evident today in the creolized societies of the African Diasporas and the many African syncretized religions such as Santeria, Vodun, Pokomania, Myalism or Palo Monte.
Bedia addresses the colonial experience in many of his works. In “Mundele Quiere Saber” (White Man Wants to Know, 1995) the large outline of a white man commands most of the canvas as he hovers over a small black man sitting on the ground. The painting is based on a photograph taken ca 1900. This quintessential image depicting colonialism shows Emil Torday in the then Belgian Congo, sitting on a stool in a safari suit while questioning a Kuba elder sitting on the ground in front of him, turned away and not paying attention to Torday.
Bedia’s own Cuban heritage is intrinsic to his work. He is an acclaimed member of Cuba’s “Generation of the 80s,” a group of pioneering young artists who incorporated Cuban vernacular and spiritual references into their work and experimented with eclectic visual forms. Bedia’s work is laced with those references as well as African symbolism, phrases and artistic techniques. Paintings such as “Piango Piango Ilega Lejos” (2000) uses animal symbolism, various African languages and many pieces recurringly feature a central Palo Monte icon, the nganga or cauldron.
Palo Monte is central to Bedia’s life. In “Mama Quiere Menga” (1988) Bedia painted his own torso bright red, showing his sacred marks of initiation. “The Palo Monte Altar” seems more of a realistic religious space rather than an installation. The space appears used with ashes, cigars, bottles, figurines, wood, knives, shells and other religious paraphernalia on display.
Jose Bedia’s travels are the essence of his art. Besides his journeys to Zimbabwe, the Congo, Argentina and the American Plains, Bedia’s most important journey was his emigration from Cuba in 1993. Bedia shares his experience in “Cuba As Insi En Mi No Hay Sol Yo Brinca Al Lado Alla” (1991) and expresses his connection to Cuba through culture and religion rather than nationality.
“Transcultural Pilgrim” is a multicultural experience, a testament to Jose Bedia’s life and an impressive retrospective of his art. Explore the Caribbean islands, the American Plains, the Amazon jungle and the African savannah with Jose Bedia at the Miami Art Museum until September 2, 2012.