Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón (1967–1999)

Belkis Ayón, La cena (The Supper), 1988, collagraph in 6 parts, 54 1/4 x 117 1/4 inches © and courtesy Estate of Belkis Ayón
Belkis Ayón, La cena (The Supper), 1988, collagraph in 6 parts, 54 1/4 x 117 1/4 inches © and courtesy Estate of Belkis Ayón

Named by the New York Times as one of the top exhibitions of 2017, Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón (1967–1999) opens at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art on January 25. The exhibition will remain on view through April 29, 2018.

This landmark retrospective is the first in the United States dedicated to the work of Belkis Ayón—the late Cuban visual artist who mined the founding myth of the Afro-Cuban fraternal society, Abakuá, to create an independent and powerful visual iconography.

From the Curator’s Statement:

“Cuban artist Belkis Ayón (1967–1999) died at age thirty-two, leaving behind a body of work of considerable importance for the history of contemporary printmaking. Her death remains a painful mystery for the national and international art community that had witnessed with admiration her successful rise to the most demanding artistic circles of the 1990s. Sixteen years after her death, the artist’s estate presents art lovers and researchers the first retrospective exhibition of the artist in the United States—Nkame—which gathers a wide selection of her graphic production from 1986 to 1999.”

Ayón, who was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1967, became interested in the Abakuá and their mysterious traditions in 1985, while pursuing art in high school. She was primarily drawn to the figure of Sikán, who according to legend, originally discovered the magic of Abakuá by accidentally trapping a fish who subsequently spoke to her, sharing a secret knowledge – but since women were banned from knowing the organization’s deepest secrets, Sikán was sworn to secrecy. The princess, however, gave in to temptation and divulged this forbidden knowledge to her fiancée; as a result, her life was sacrificed. In Ayón’s works, Sikán is brought back to life, and the myth and mystery surrounding this figure is brought to light, transformed through Ayon’s exceptional collographic prints.

A distinguishing feature of Ayón’s artwork is her signature use of collography, a difficult and labor-intensive printmaking process whereby materials in a variety of textures and absorbencies are collaged onto a cardboard matrix, applied to a plate that is inked, and then run through a printing press.

“Belkis Ayon’s large-scale prints are captivating in story and technique. We have an opportunity, through her vision, to create a dialogue with mythology, history, culture, and geography while appreciating her printmaking virtuosity,” says Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs at Kemper Museum.

an opening reception taking place Thursday, January 25, from 6:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m. Join Havana, Cuba-based Curator Cristina Vives for introductory remarks during a Members-only Preview beginning at 5:00 p.m. Enjoy music linking sounds from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic by Manos de Mañana from the Traditional Music Society of Kansas City; complimentary food, beer, and wine courtesy of Kemper Museum’s Café Sebastienne; and cocktails sponsored by Tom’s Town Distilling Co. of Kansas City.


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