Belkis Ayón: Sikán Illuminations

Belkis Ayón: Sikán Illuminations

Belkis Ayón: Sikán Illuminations
5th October, 2024 – 26th January, 2025
Modern Art Oxford
30 Pembroke Street
Oxford, UK, OX1 1BP

Modern Art Oxford announces Belkis Ayón: Sikán Illuminations as the exhibition in
its Upper galleries when it reopens in October following the major refurbishment of its ground and lower ground floor spaces.

Sikán Illuminations examines Cuban artist Belkis Ayón’s (1967 – 1999) brief but intense artistic career during which she used a printmaking process called collography to produce richly detailed and enigmatic artworks which recreate the cultural and spiritual world of the Abakuá secret society.

Belkis Ayón: Sikán Illuminations
Belkis Ayón, El Señor del secreto, 1988. Copyright Belkis Ayón Estate.
Courtesy of  Belkis Ayón Estate and David Castillo

The Abakuá, a predominantly male Afro-Cuban religious group originating in the tribes and ritual traditions of West Africa, served as a lifelong source of inspiration for Ayón. She explored the heritage of the Abakuá by focusing on the mythical female figure of Sikán. Through her work, Ayón reinterprets the origin story of the Abakuá by making visible the emotions and struggles of Sikán in her imagery and combines it with her own ideas and experiences of life as a black Cuban woman.

Collagraphy is often perceived as one of the simplest printmaking processes and is composed using improvised materials. But by layering textured materials onto cardboard matrices, this collage-like method allowed Ayón to produce a vast range of tones, textures, and forms in her multi-panelled work – the dramatic effect and differing scales she was able to create pushed the boundaries of what was possible using this medium. And by combining the relatively obscure spirit of the Abakuá myth with the dense, fragmented and visually complex aesthetics of collagraphy, she made a connection between the rustic implements used in Abakuá ceremonies, historically conducted in very modest social circumstances.

Image credit: Belkis Ayón, La cena (The Supper), 1991. © Belkis Ayón Estate.
Courtesy of the Belkis Ayón Estate and David
Castillo. Photo: José Figueroa

Ayón’s work defies societal norms and creates space for imagining alternative possibilities for spirituality and gender equality. Telling ancient stories in new ways, these artworks create a radical new mythology capable of amending the past and altering the future.

Belkis Ayón was one of the most prominent figures of 20th century Cuban art and
Sikán Illuminations is the first major survey exhibition of Ayón’s work in a UK institution. The exhibition consists of 50 works belonging to the Belkis Ayón Estate based in Havana and is curated by Corina Matamoros and Sandra García Herrera

Belkis Ayón: Sikán Illuminations opens on the 5th of October, 2024 until the 26th of January, 2025 at Modern Art Oxford

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