Vie des Arts 200 English

Montreal

Maria Giulia Alemanno

September 19th - October 3rd

Beaux-arts David Astrof

Thomson House

3650 McTavish

www.artap.com

For the first ever Canadian showing of Italian artist Maria Giulia Alemanno’s paintings, Beaux-arts David Astrof has brought together an unusual body of work. In a sense these large scale paintings share something in common with Stanley Spencer, for they carry the signs and symbols of religion though their main emphasis is on the art. The similarities, however, end there. Maria Giulia Alemanno’s paintings embody the personas of the Orishas from the Santeria religion. Her visual interpretations are part imagined and part based in this religion centered in Cuba, Brazil and other parts of South America.

The Orishas, considered to be emissaries of Olodumare or God are believed to have powers to rule over the forces of nature and humanity. This in and of itself makes Santeria interesting as a religion for the forms, the occurrences, and elements in nature are literally configurations of these Orishas. For Alemanno, Santeria has invaded her soul, and as she comments : "If my Orishas can take form here among these fields (in the Italian countryside), it’s because the soul of Caribe has deeply invaded my heart to make me a continuous presence in its waves, its coral reefs, its skies."

When she first started to make watercolour renditions of the Orishas after a visit to Cuba (where she first learned of Santeria) this folkloric religion with such an attachment to the importance of colour, costume and dance attracted her like a magnet. Since then Santeria has taken Alemanno on what she refers to as "an infinite journey." The first exhibitions she held in Italy have been followed up by exhibitions in Havana at St. Francis-Orula Abbey, in the restored heart of the old town, and at El Taller del Papel Artisanal and the Sala Mercedita Valdis of the Yoruba Society. Alemanno’s interpretations of the Orishas were likewise shown during the 8th Meeting of Social and Cultural Anthropology on Afro-American roots, dedicated to Fernando Ortiz.

As paintings, these works illustrate this religion. They become embodiments of stories of the woods and seas, of the bushes and trees, and of men and gods that are every bit as epic as the ancient Greek stories of Homer and equally as nature-sensitized as any ecologist’s. Ochśn, a great beauty in this religion is painted by Alemanno and carries symbols - a heart with an arrow - a bell and a fish. Dressed in a flowing dress Ochśn is accompanied by an image of the sun and peacock feathers - all overt symbols associated with beauty. The painterly collaging continues with Yeamay‡, considered mother of water and life. The allegorical style is attractive for its simple and forthright intertwining of sea imagery. A boat, for instance - the old masted sailing kind - rides on waves that are this goddess’ hair. This merwoman’s very clothing becomes an embodiment of the seas. Chango the Santeria king of blood and fire is vividly portrayed in red clothing breathing fire. with his machete, sword and rooster - a formidable and fear-inspiring protagonist. Eleggua, a tiny sprite-like figure with magical powers who is said to open doors has a kite flying in the air beside her. There is an atmosphere of serendipity and chance to this. She is clothed playfully, has a mask and carries a walking stick.

What makes Alemanno’s interpretations so revealing is that they are her very own readings of what these Orishas represent. She does not copy other peoples’ visions or renditions of these highly personalized Gods. In so doing the artist communicates to us, just as the dance and music that are part of Santeria something of that homegrown sensibility and cultural vitality. With colour and cadence, these vividly charged depictions intuitively communicate the lively wisdom, the living traditions, often unrecorded in written form, and kept alive through the vernacular of the SantŽria religion whose fusion of voodoo and christianity, even ancient Yoruba African culture feels strangely post-Modern for all its hybridity!

- John K. Grande