As a young adult in his native Cuba, Jose Bedia was initiated into the secret rituals of Palo Monte, a folk religion originally from Central Africa based on the worship of forest spirits. As with voodoo, Christianity is part of the overall mix, as is Native American lore. This is true all over the Caribbean; the voodoo-influenced Christianity of Haiti is hardly unique. What is unusual is Jose Bedia's ability to synthesize the ancient mythology of his cultural roots with a striking, expressionistic approach to making art. Like so much Cuban and Cuban-American art, Bedia's imagery is fairly austere. Unlike much Cuban-American art, which typically focuses on political oppression and the exile experience, Bedia has fashioned an elaborate visual vocabulary by expanding his original Palo Monte orientation into a more universal mythology, one that includes both ancient and modern imagery while maintaining the familiar Cuban sparseness of line.
In Yemaya Enojada at Heriard-Cimino, Yemaya, the mother goddess of the sea, is depicted as a siren or mermaid of cosmic proportions. Originally a Nigerian deity, Yemaya appears in Haitian and New Orleans voodoo as well as Afro-Cuban religion. Here she raises a sword at soaring fighter jets, whose presence has clearly offended her. If a sea goddess confronting fighter jets sounds like a stretch, it all makes complete sense in Bedia's spiritual universe. In Algun Orden Habra Alli (pictured), a human figure reclines under a dusky sky studded with mystical geometric forms linked by traceries of color suggesting the obscure forces that invisibly influence worldly destiny.
At the Ogden Museum, the imagery is just as bold and vivid with the added benefit of a large installation featuring one of Bedia's mythic figures painted on the wall. Nearby, the intriguing clay sculpture Soul Houses by Cuban-American artist Mario Petrirena silently bears witness to this unlikely efflorescence of the spirit world. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Jose Bedia: Fragment of Journeys
Through March 3
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300; www.heriardcimino.com
Through April 11
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600; www.ogdenmuseum.org