Abre Nkuto muchacho nuevo, 1989/2007
José Bedia is associated with the important “80s Generation,” a group of Cuban artists who comprised an important new wave of politically charged creativity from the island-nation. His paintings usually evince personal subject matter, filtered through imagery and traditions deriving from Afro-Cuban and Native American folklore and religious beliefs and practices. Bedia is an initiate of Palo Monte, a religion that has its roots in central Africa, the origin of many African slaves who were taken to Cuba. He is also an avid researcher of the Dakota Sioux, whose renderings of simple outlines and silhouetted forms have been foundational to his drawing style.
In Abre Nkuto muchacho nuevo, two heads, one slightly larger than the other, are placed next to each other, flanking a corner. The Elder, depicted as the larger head to the right, faces the smaller head of the less knowledgeable Initiate to the left. Connecting the two figures is a metallic bridge, upon which is placed a “power object” known as an Nkuto. Nkutos are small portable Ngangas - consecrated ritual cauldrons made of either iron or clay, which house the spirits of the dead as well as more powerful spirits known as Nkisi. Ngangas may only be possessed by a fully initiated Palero or Palera. The bridge extends from the Elder’s mouth to the Initiate’s ear. The Elder is teaching the Initiate how to unlock the powers inside the Nkuto. During initiation, the name of the initiate’s guiding spirit is revealed, as is the list of ingredients that are required for the Nganga. Bedia received Sarabanda, and references to this spirit occur frequently in his installations. Sarabanda is associated with metals; his Nganga might hold such objects as magnets, nails, knifes, pliers, razor blades, horseshoes, and scissors. The bridge then acts as means of metaphysical communication linking the physical and spiritual words. In this way, Bedia embodies initiation as a process of passing on knowledge while establishing a direct link with the spirits.