Belkis Ayón ‘NKAME’ Cuban prints at El Museo del Barrio

NKAME a retrospective of Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayón is pure Cuban soul. The first U.S. museum exhibition of the master printmaker is a woman’s vision of the mystical world of the Afro-Cuban secret society Abakuá.

NKAME a retrospective of Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayón is at El Museo del Barrio June 13 – November 5, 2017.

Belkis Ayón, a Black woman in a man’s world

Belkis Ayón (1967–1999) was known for making prints by creating mixed media collages on cardboard and running them through the printing press.

She is exceptional in both her achievements as a Black woman in her time and place, and as a woman exploring an all-male secret society.

The exhibition, which was organized by the Belkis Ayón Estate and Ayón Manso with the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles, covers Ayón’s most creative period from 1986-1999. You might not know her, but Ayón’s work is in collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

Secrets untold, but deeply seen

Ayón channeled the spirit of Sikán, the African princess of Abakuá myth. She is the white figure in the prints, the opposite energy. It is the men’s responsibility to hide the secrets, and her’s to share them.

But to speak of them is taboo, so Ayón speaks through the eyes. Those are Cuban eyes, but they could be from anywhere, Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, South Asia, Europe, even the stars. The work transcends the localization of its subject.

This is deep Cuban soul, but it is surprisingly universal. Ayón printed the stuff of dreams, of the dark corners of the mind where darkness becomes light itself.

After Ayón’s death by suicide, the family worked to preserve and share the artist’s vision. That was a challenge in Cuba’s humid climate. President Obama’s opening with Cuba has allowed these visions to come to New York City.

There is something in those eyes…


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