Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón


February 6 to September 05, 2021

The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is pleased to host Nkame, a solo exhibition dedicated to the work of the late Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayón (1967-1999). During her short but fertile career, she produced an extraordinary body of work central to the history of contemporary printmaking in Cuba and abroad. 

Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón presents forty-eight prints and audiovisual materials that encompass a wide range of the artist’s graphic production from 1986 until her untimely passing in 1999. Ayón mined the founding narrative of the Afro-Cuban all-male fraternal society called Abakuá Secret Society to create an independent and powerful visual iconography. She is highly regarded for her signature technique of collagraphy, a printing process in which a variety of materials are collaged onto a cardboard matrix and run through a press. Her deliberately austere palette of subtle black, white, and gray adds drama and mystery to her works. By joining multiple printed sheets she made large-scale works which are all included in the exhibition.

Ayón’s choice of subject matter—the history and mythology of Abakuá—was a direction she took in 1985, while still a high school student at the San Alejandro Academy of Fine Arts. This brotherhood arrived in the western port cities of Cuba in the early nineteenth century, carried by enslaved Africans from the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria, and since then became a nucleus of protection and resistance for its members. A brief synopsis of the founding myth of Abakuá begins with Sikán, a princess who inadvertently trapped a fish while drawing water from the river. She was the first to hear the unexpected and loud bellowing of the fish, the mystical “voice” of Abakuá. Because women were not permitted this sacred knowledge, the local diviner swore Sikán to secrecy. Sikán, however, revealed her secret to her fiancé and because of her indiscretion was condemned to death. In Ayón’s work, Sikán remains alive, and her story and representation figure prominently. 

Nkame, a word meaning praise and salutation in the Abakuá language, defines the character of the exhibition. Cristina Vives, a Cuba-based independent researcher, art critic, and curator of the exhibition, states, “Nkame is not simply an homage to Belkis Ayón but a possibility to dialogue with her work in quest of that affirming message of life and future that humanity needs.”

Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón is curated by Cristina Vives and organized by the Belkis Ayón Estate, Havana, Cuba, with the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. Exhibition Tour Management by Landau Traveling Exhibition, Los Angeles, CA. The exhibition premiered in the United States in 2016, and in 2017, ArtNews magazine named it one of the top ten exhibitions in the world. Behind the Veil of a Myth, a 2018 publication written by Cristina Vives and edited by the Estate of Belkis Ayón, the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston, and Estudio Figueroa-Vives in Havana, accompanies the exhibition.

Purchase the accompanying exhibiton catalog Behind The Veil Of A Myth: Belkis Ayón 

Online resources: 
Video: Belkis Ayón - Regreso a casa | Back Home
Video: Belkis Ayón - Entrevistada por Ines Anselmi/Interviewed by Ines Anselmi
Video: Belkis Ayón - Work in Progress
Video: A Minute Exhibit
Video: Documentary feature "Abakuá: Mito y Tradición" produced by University of Oregon’s World Music Series.
Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón: Virtual Tour