Legendary Afro-Cuban Feminist Belkis Ayón Gets Her First U.S. Museum Exhibition

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Afro-Cuban feminist legend Belkis Ayón is celebrated as a master printmaker whose work is largely centered on the Abakuá, an exclusively male, Afro-Cuban secret society that originated in Nigeria and gained popularity in 19th-century Cuba.

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Ayón’s work, a masterful blend of varied, greyscale textures, highlights a single female entity with which she’d greatly identified. Sikán, according to legend, is an African princess and the sole woman character in Abakuá mythology, who is also credited for discovering the wizardry of Abakuá via her encounter with a mystical, talking fish. Now a toast of the art world beyond her native island, Ayón narrated through the eyes of her mouthless figures, both sinister and forthright in a forest of blackness.

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On Sept. 11, 1999, Ayón, 32, clutched her father’s gun and fatally shot herself with it. Following her death, her family went to great lengths to share her work with the rest of the world. As a result, the Belkis Ayón Estate collaborated with Fowler Museum in Los Angeles on “Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón”.

Ayón’s first solo U.S. museum exhibition is guest-curated by Cristina Vives-Figueroa, it encompasses 43 prints, and is on view through Feb. 12, 2017.