Self-portraits are portals artists create by centering themselves. Most people and most self-portraits are a representation of the face of the artists. However, there are many ways for artists to create portals centering themselves without being focused on the face. I am particularly interested in this realm of self-portraits because of the spiritual connection and channeling of the artist. As an artist myself, trained in the Academy for Careers in TV & Film in the Directing cohort, I find myself drawn to photographs and film. Now I study at the Eugene Lang College Of Liberal Arts at The New School with a double major in both Visual & Global Studies and a minor in Race & Ethnicity. The shift of focus to study Visual Art in undergraduate college allowed me to expand my understanding and use across all mediums. It also helped me understand and appreciate performance art.
Performance art brings the art alive in a very literal and physical way. It’s a ritual. There is a strong connection between art and spiritual and religious beliefs and practices. I like when artists dive deeper into that connection intentionally. There is something special that happens when channeling that spiritual energy into the artwork, there is a de-centering of ego. There is less of a focus on this concept of “human perfection”, especially in physical form. When I center myself especially in art, I center on spiritual energy, not necessarily the physical form. I feel the most connected and myself when I am connected to spiritual energy. So when I choose to represent myself, I choose to represent my spiritual energy. When I connect or resonate with something, I am often connecting or resonating with other spiritual energy.
Vital to my spiritual practices is connecting and honoring ancestors. My lineage and ancestry have always been important to me. I feel very responsible and connected to my family. They are always with us and guiding us. We are made from them. We are here because of them. In Caribbean households like my own, when family members pass we create altars for them. Especially when they first pass but of course whenever you miss them or want to honor their spirit you can with a picture of them and a candle. Even if you don’t have a picture of them, lighting a candle for them. This kind of ritual is common and has been imprinted in me from a young age. Therefore when I center my spiritual energy, I center my ancestors as well.
On the Full Moon in Scorpio (my natal moon) on May 7th, 2020 I had a 3 part dream. Sometimes I have very spiritually charged dreams, mostly on the full and new moons. The dreams that are synched and charged with the moon, always bring strong messages from the ancestors. At the end of the dream, I ended up laying down flat in a dark room. I began to feel sleep paralysis happen to me and I’m not sure if you know what that feels like, but it’s like you begin to lose control like the movement of your body. I’ve had it a couple of very specific times. It’s very draining spiritually and physically. I began to fight it like I would by trying to wake myself up and get up physically. As I began to do that my root chakra exploded into this fire. The fire was colorful, of all the chakras colors, and was so strong and beautiful. So demanding in presence, it at first scared me, because I thought at first whatever I was fighting to not go into sleep paralysis, so I punched it. As I punched it with all my might, I felt all my might hurt me in my root chakra. That’s when I knew it was me. It was my root chakra, exploding. The root chakra is the first chakra, based on the earth element, the focuses are safety, survival, and grounding. It is your base, your foundation. It also connects us with the spiritual energy of our ancestors and ancestral memory. That is when I realized I was looking at my ancestors, the ones I carry with me, there were so many of them, and most of them were without a face. Many of them without faces and form. I woke up shortly after I saw the fire of my ancestors from my root chakra and immediately recounted the dream in a voice message to a dear friend of mine. I knew it was very important to archive the dream because it felt major. Something shifted in me. My focus and feelings to those of us who are without a face or physical form. Ancestors who are without form. How do we honor and communicate with those of us without form?
Ana Mendieta was a Cuban-American artist who in her Silueta series I see as giving form to ancestors among other spiritual channelings. The Silueta series is Mendieta's work of mixing performance, sculpture, film and drawing revolving around the body, nature, and the spiritual connections between them. Mendita fused aspects of the Santeria religion in her artwork especially in the bodily traces which she made into an altar fashioned with different materials varying from flowers, animals’ hearts or handprints, fire, tree branches, and moss. In the Silueta series, she creates form without faces in ritual performances. You can understand the spiritual energy of Menedita's work by the way she writes about it: “My art is grounded in the belief of one universal energy which runs through everything: from insect to man, from man to specter, from specter to plant from plant to galaxy. My works are the irrigation veins of this universal fluid. Through them ascend the ancestral sap, the original beliefs, the primordial accumulations, the unconscious thoughts that animate the world.”
While the Silueta series is abstract in form, it is clear in intention. The abstract form, the elements, materials, and the ritualistic performances channel great spiritual energy into Mendieta’s series. This great spiritual energy can read as many things but to me, it is of the ancestors, of a form of self-portrait because they are with us and we are with them. This indestructible and infinite bond is the form she creates. Mendieta’s Silueta Series are made from materials of the Earth. They are given back to the Earth. They will not withstand forever in physical form. They will one day, be eroded by the sea or the wind or fire and sunken back into the Earth. This is a powerful representation of our lives in this physical form. We will not live in this physical form forever. We will one day be returned back to the Earth. I believe we will be around in spirit to guide and protect our descendants in the ways we are guided and protected now.