Bernardo Sarría(Cienfuegos, 1950)

The life of artist Bernardo Sarría has not been easy. Quite the opposite. To be black and poor (and there is no milder way of saying it) have not been good ingredients to provide for his well-being up to now. In fact, this is a fatal equation, avoided in Cuba, whenever anyone tries to explain objectively and without euphemisms the current unfavourable economic situation of many Cuban men and women from this sector of our society.


In this work Bernardo Sarria has grouped and recreated in his own way the twelve letters or signs characteristic of the Yoruba divination system, commonly called in Cuba "the shell" or diloggun (from the Yoruba merindilogun, meaning sixteen), widely used in Santeria or Regla de Ocha to hear the "voice" and the will of the orishas. This divination practice is carried out by iyaloshas and babaloshas and especially by the oriate or specialist in oracles. The oriate interprets its meaning according to the amount of shells that fall - in two successive throws -- in a “conversational” position, that is to say, with its natural opening upwards, thereby obtaining an odu or double sign to know what the orishas have to say about the problem raised and the actions recommended to solve this problem. Although the oriate generally knows the meaning of the sixteen signs of the shell, the rule is that beyond sign number twelve, one should go to a babalaw or Orula priest. This priest is the only one authorized to interpret the remaining signs, but this time not by using shells, but by means of an instrument called ekwele, ekpwele or chain of Ifa, or by the handling of seeds of a type of palm called ikines. Bernardo, as a santero, has respected this tradition and has used only twelve signs instead of sixteen in his painting.

From the upper left quadrant, he has deployed these twelve signs following their hierarchical order. The signs are known as Okana, Eyioko, Ogunda, Iroso, Oshe, Obara, Odi, Eyeunle, Osa, Ofun, Ojuani and Meyila. Bernardo was inspired not only to express some of the traditional meanings of these signs that have been gathered in brief proverbs and stories where ancient Yoruba (and Cuban) wisdom are condensed, but also to introduce his own interpretations, desires, discomforts, memories, and fantasies because, apart from being a religious man, Bernardo is, above all, an artist. If the first sign, Okana, speaks of "three people that die suddenly" (hence the three crosses that appear in the said box), the third sign, Ogunda refers to surgical operations, autopsies and war (since it is a sign governed by the orisha Oggun). The artist has painted a person whose abdomen was opened by a dagger instead of a scalpel, since it is an enemy (a son of Oggun) who has tried to rob Bernardo of the right to his dwelling. Ordinarily incapable of violence, Bernardo expresses his strong feeling of antipathy in this painting. Finally, to emphasize his message in each case, Bernardo has sewn to the cloth the amount of shells representing each sign, making the square structure of his work and the independence and pictorial intensity of each one of the twelve images more attractive.

Year: 2008
Technique: Oil on canvas with sewn cowrie shells
Size: 130 x 140 cm

Theme: religion