Julián González Pérez(Regla, Havana, 1949)

Julián González Pérez has lived all his life and developed his artistic work in this context, so that he is virtually unknown in galleries and museums. There are a few exceptions: several years ago the Municipal Museum of Regla commissioned two large paintings representing Abakuá and Palo Monte, which are on permanent display.

Bríkamo Mañongo Usagaré

Brikamo Mañongo Usagare, 2008 is a realistic representation of an Abakuá ritual including most of the important characters of this grouping, identified by their attire, the symbolic signatures or anaforuanas inscribed on their aprons, or by the drums or other attributes indicating their rank. In the left-hand corner, we find the fambá or temple where the secret ceremonies take place. On both sides is the palm (Ukano Mambre) and the ceiba or silk-cotton tree (Ukano Bekonsi), under which important events took place during the emergence of the Abakuá religious-fraternal grouping, both with the corresponding signature that is traced before beginning any ceremony. All the signatures that are made with yellow chalk mean life, while those made with white chalk are used for funeral rites. To the right, we find Sikán, also carrying on her head a vessel marked with its corresponding signature, with the head of Tanze, the fish, sticking out. The artist has represented the natural environment in full; the river, the mountains, the animals, the plants and other details that are an important part of the myth and the ritual. No element of this painting lacks symbolic meaning, so that it can be considered a small treatise or painted text where all the content can be clearly identified.

It is intriguing to find a massive presence of black people in this painting, although even from the 19th century many white men were accepted in the Abakuá religion practiced in Cuba. Such membership was made possible thanks to the intelligence of a controversial religious Cuban man, Andrés Facundo Cristo de los Dolores Petit, tertiary of the Franciscan Catholic order, who was also Isue of the first Abakuá chapter of white men and founder of the Kimbisa Rule of Sacred Christ of Good Voyage, one of the branches of the Palo Monte religion. As Julián is white and at the same time Abakuá obonekue, what reason did he have for this unusual exclusion of white people? Perhaps it is a sign of respect and acknowledgment of the African origin of this religion? The answer may lie in the title of the painting itself, since the word Brikamo refers generically to all the people from Calabar in Africa; Mañongo means bush, and Usagare is the geographical place in Africa where it is said that the first plante or meeting of this association took place. Thus, it seems that the painting does not portray an Abakuá ritual in Cuba, but a ritual of the Carabali in Usagare. How could a white man have participated in such a remote ceremony?

As Belkis Ayón and Julián González are the two artists that have dealt most with the Abakuá topic in our artistic milieu, it may be useful to briefly compare them, although their language and style are totally different, even opposed. Contrary to what happens in Belkis Ayón’s work, Julián González Pérez's work does not use individual imagination in case this will influence the accuracy or the precision with which the historic memory must be represented from an artistic point of view. Julián probably considers that using imagination is reckless, questionable or incorrect, which could alter the historical truth of the myth and the ritual. In Julián’s works, everything is in open daylight, seemingly without mystery. Nothing is hidden, but is instead represented in an objective way, perhaps because since Julián is a member of this secret society, its mysteries have been revealed to him and he participates in them more naturally. Ultimately the two artists are united by the same respect for this old religious institution inherited from black Africa and preserved up to the present in Cuba.

Year: 2008
Technique: Oil on canvas
Size: 95.5 x 152 cm

Theme: religion nature Africa