Á caminho da festa de Iemanjá

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Artwork title translation

On the way to the Iemanjá Celebration

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Artwork dimensions

height: 50cm
width: 64cm

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Accession method

Donated by Tiíta 1998

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Iemanjá is the Afro-Brazilian Goddess of large rivers and the sea. Her name derives from a river in present-day Nigeria, and a Yoruba expression meaning ‘the mother whose sons are fish’. European and American slave traders shipped around fifteen million enslaved Africans across the Atlantic to the Americas. Life on board of the slave ships was particularly harsh and many died of dehydration and disease. Grateful survivors may have thanked their own African deity of the sea, and hence the worship of Iemanjá and its cognates, such as the Central African Kianda, eventually became more prominent in Cuba and Brazil than in Africa. In Brazil Iemanjá is also known as Dona Janaina, Mãe d’água (Mother of the Water) and is syncretized with the Catholic saint Our Lady of the Conception. Although detail of worship may vary according to the specific ‘nation’ of Afro-Brazilian religion, Iemanjá’s core attributes are always the colours blue and white, a silver fan and a sword, and pebble from the ocean. Iemanjá stands for spiritual harmony, maternity and the family. As such she has become an iconic figure in Brazilian popular culture. In the Candomblé religion only female animals such as duck, goat, and sheep are sacrificed for her, and practitioners devoted to her must avoid eating crabs, and killing mice or cockroaches. Her favourite food is baked fish and rice covered with egg white and her weekday is Saturday.

Á caminho da festa de Iemanjá (On the way to the Iemanjá Celebration), by Tiíta Machado, depicts a group of seven worshippers on their path to a celebration in the deity’s honour —which in Rio de Janeiro takes place on New Year’s Eve. The artist has de-emphasised the individuality of the participants by leaving their faces blank, although the great variation in skin tones suggests that the worship of Iemanjá is no longer restricted to any particular ethnic or racial group —Afro-Brazilian religion today is an universalist faith open to everyone. Tiíta devotes particular attention to the shoes, the delicate lacework on the women’s white garments and the flowers that will be offered to Iemanjá. The white dunes in the background —which may be inspired by the artist’s residence in Cabo Frio— and the dark blue sky with a faint light in the horizon, contribute to the mystical atmosphere of the painting. We can imagine that the atabaque drums, which are played only by men, will soon resonate and call Iemanjá to come and incorporate her ‘daughters-of-saint’, the initiated who ‘receive’ her in ritual trance.

(Text commissioned by ESCALA for the exhibition Connecting through Collecting: 20 Years of Art from Latin America at the University of Essex, 2014)

Matthias Röhrig Assunção

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