1993 Evidencias de vindicación (Belkis Ayon, Isary Paulet, Ibrahim Miranda), Centro de Arte 23 y 12, Havana.
1993 Siempre velvo: Grabados de Belkis Ayón, Centro Provincial de Artes Plásticas y Diseño, Havana.
1994 La Jeune Peinture Cubaine / Jeunes Plasticiens Cubains, Bibliothèque Schoelder y Maison de la Culture de Lamentin, Fort-de-France, Martinique.
1994 Siempre Vuelvo, Galleria Colorenero, Milan, Italy.
1994 Arte de Cuba / Art de Cubâ, Fundació Joseph Comaposada, Cataluña, Spain. (Reproduced in catalogue)
1995 Kunst aus Kuba. Werke auf Papier und Leinwand, Museum Baviera, Zurich, Switzerland. (Reproduced in catalogue)
1995 Belkis Ayón: Unterstütze mich, halte mich hoch im Schmerz / Sostenme en el dolor, Pfarrkirche St. Barbara, Breining, Germany. (Reproduced in catalogue)
2001 Arte Cubano. Entre el lienzo y el papel, Sala Miró, UNESCO, Paris.
2002 Kunst aus Kuba, Sammlung Ludwig / Art from Cuba, The Ludwig Collection, Museum Ludwig im Russischen Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Reproduced in catalogue)
2003 (Apr 4-19) Belkis Ayón: Early Work, Patricia Doran Graduate Gallery, Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, MA. (Reproduced in catalogue)
2003 Resurrection. Belkis Ayón (1967–1999). Collographs from Cuba, Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania, Brandywine Workshop, Philadelphia.
2006 El desafío de la permanencia. Exposición antológica de Belkia Ayón (1967–1999), Galería Pedro Esquerré, CPAV, Matanzas, Cuba.
2007 (May 29-Sep 9) Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection, Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
2007 (Oct 7-Dec 31) Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection, John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL
2009 (Oct 3-Jan 4) Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection, Jordan Schnitzer Museum, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR
2010 (Oct 15-Jan 10) Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
2010 (Feb-Apr 4) Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection, Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL
2010 (Jun 27-Sep 19) Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection, Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NY
2009 Nkame: Belkis Ayón (1967–1999), Convento de San Francisco de Asis, Havana.
2012 Caribbean Crossroads of the World, Studio Museum of Harlem, New York.
Eugenio Valdés Figueroa, “Antropocentrismo en el arte cubano actual,” Atlantica, Revista de Arte y Pensamiento, Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain (1992), pp. 10-16. “Belkis Ayón Mano,” El Libro del Taller (Havana: Artecubano Ediciones, 2003), p. 51. Rosemary Branson Gill, Belkis Ayón: Early Works (Boston: Massachusetts College of Art, 2003), illust. p. 7 and listing p. 25. Atlantica, Revista de Arte y Pensamiento 37 (Winter 2004), pp. 97-105. Daineris Peña Edmond, “Colagrafía a cinco voces,” Universidad de Habana, Facultad de Artes y Letras (June 21, 2007). Abelardo Mena Chicuri, Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art from the Farber Collection (University of Florida Press, 2007). Center for Cuban Studies, 40th Anniversary Calendar, August 2012, illus. Katia Ayón, ed., Nkame—Belkis Ayón (Cuba: Belkis Ayón Estate / Turner, 2010), pp. 123 and 207. Abelardo Mena Chicuri, “Entrevista con coleccionista Howard Farber, “ Arte por excelencias Edición 9 (2011), pp. 47-53.
1995 Church St Barbara, Sostenme en el dolor, Breinig, Germany
Catalgue Raissone Page 204 Ref: 93.14
1995 Church St Barbara, Sostenme en el Dolor, Breinig, Germany Reproduced in Catalogue
Catalogue Raissone Page 200 Ref: 93.09
1998 Desasosiego/Restlessness: Belkis Ayón . Couturier Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (solo).
1999 ¡Cuba Presente! Trabajando pa´l inglé, Barbican Centre, London, UK.
1999 Arte cubano, más allá del papel, Centro Cultural del Conde Duque, Salas Pedro de Ribera y Juan de Villanueva, Madrid, Spain.
2000 Siempre vuelvo. Colografías de Belkis Ayón. VII Bienal de La Habana, Havana, Cuba.
2001 Imágenes desde el silencio: Colografías y matrices de Belkis Ayón, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana, Cuba (solo).
2009 Nkame. Belkis Ayón (1967-1999), Convento de San Francisco de Asís, Havana, Cuba.
Catalogues of cited exhibitions. Daineris Peña Edmond, “Colagrafía a cinco voces,” Universidad de Habana, Facultad de Artes y Letras (June 21, 2007). John Dorfman, “Southern Exposure,” Art & Antiques (Nov 2011), p, 84, illus. Katia Ayón, ed., Nkame—Belkis Ayón (Cuba: Belkis Ayón Estate / Turner, 2010), pp. 23 and 231.
1967-1999, resided in Cuba
While studying at the San Alejandro art school in Havana, Belkis Ayón discovered the writings of Lydia Cabrera and Enrique Sosa about the secret society of the Abakuá. Originating in Calabar, Nigeria, the Abakuá is one of four religious-cultural groups of African origin that have been present in Cuba since colonial times. This secret society does not accept women, homosexuals, or visual representations of any kind. Since the beginning of the 20th century, it has been linked to antisocial and criminal activity (Fuente, 2001). Santería music, songs, musical instruments, and dances had been catalogued as the folkloric patrimony of the nation; the Abakuá, however, did not enjoy such official recognition.
Ayón’s approach to Abakuá culture was not simply an isolated gesture made in an artistic context. Cuba’s official atheistic-scientific discourse segregated all religious practices of Afro-Cuban origin as “vestiges from the past,” but contemporary Cuban artists rediscovered them as deep and vital wellsprings of the nation. Works by Bedia, Elso, and Rodríguez Brey deconstructed the Eurocentric perspective from which Cuban artists and scholars had observed Afro-Cuban cultures since the 1800s. Other artists incorporated the kitsch, pun-filled visuals and scattershot incoherence of the urban environment, the everyday humor, popular scatology, current events, and political rhetoric—all texts within arm’s reach, but invisible to Cuban art during the previous decades.
Ayón’s prints do not presume to establish the imagery of a religion, nor are they a believer’s tribute. With a strictly contemporary vision, she takes the myths of the Abakuá as her artistic foundation. In the absence of an iconographic system, she threads together fictions, filling the gaps left by the silence with which Abakuá culture has guarded its beliefs. Her creative license is essentially no different from European artists’ re-creation of myths since the Renaissance. In her case, the raw material is the legend of Sikán, a story of African origin transplanted to the Americas.
In the 1990s, Ayón consolidated her mastery of classical printing techniques and the visual universe that it spawned. Producing large-format, limited-edition prints from a conceptual-art perspective, she joined artists Ibrahim Miranda, Abel Barroso, and Sandra Ramos as a leader of La Huella Múltiple (The Multiple Imprint). For a medium usually reserved for the reproduction of decorative scenes, it was a radical project. Ayón reached creative maturity in her exploration of collography. This printing process became her “natural” medium, and she exploited it to its fullest potential. In her collographs, the plate is essentially a collage assembled through successive layers of ink. Ayón achieves her effects through a variety of textures and subtle tones of black, white, and gray. This austere, intentionally limited approach lends the work an air of self-contained mystery.
The artist’s evocation of Byzantine icons and Japanese prints contribute to the sense of an original universe. The utter flatness of the cut-out figures, the elimination of all unnecessary detail, the balance between black and white spaces, the beautifully organized composition, the deft use of different sizes and formats, and the suggestively charged backgrounds all coalesce to unveil “mythic spaces, charged with energies that inhabit a time beyond a now and a later…” (Wood, 1999, 3). Within the context of this evocative universe, Ayón included compositions taken from Catholic iconography and popular photography, such as La cena (The Last Supper, 1991) or La familia (The Family, 1995). But she never intended to make literal narratives of specific scenes or mythologies.
Ayón appropriated the Abakuá rituals with profound respect, taking no part in the parodies found elsewhere in Cuban art. Faced with a norm based on “the discriminatory treatment of everything feminine, which is an organic, structural component of the African cultures that reached these lands” (Castro, 1996, 4), Ayón inserted an authorial subversion or distortion: a “female voice,” absolutely forbidden in Abakuá tradition. From a practical perspective, references to the artist were included in her representations of the female figure: she was her own model. She also identified herself with Sikán, whose ostracism by the Abakuá—for having revealed the secret of the fish Tánze—was the basis of its exclusion of women. Inspired by the Sikán myth, Ayón’s large, almond-shaped eyes entered the forbidden territory assuming a variety of identities. Gradually, the artist’s work reflected the intense crisis of her personal life: “when Belkis emphasizes Sikán’s conflict, it seems that she wants to put the emphasis on her own conflict” (Mateo, 2000, 5). That conflict ended with her tragic death at age 32.
Ayón’s oeuvre does not place her among poetic realists such as Leonora Carrington, nor is it akin to picturesque versions of magical realism. Ayón was able to discover her own world—nurtured by the live traditions of an insular culture, with the wide-eyed attitude of someone doing it for the first time.
—Abelardo G. Mena Chicuri