Aug 122023

Elliot and Erick Jiménez’s photographs explore art history references and religious iconography to create a body of work which beckons you in to see what emerges from their dark canvases.

The museum’s information about the work-

Elliot & Erick Jiménez are the first collaborative artist team to be presented in the Florida Prize exhibition. They have the additional distinction of being identical twins. Growing up with shared interests in art and photography, each contributed individual strengths, creating their work through a process of planning, communication, and mutual respect. Their aesthetic approach is inspired by the canon of European art history and their Cuban heritage, while also being relevant to contemporary visual culture. The Jiménezes are first-generation Cuban Americans raised in Miami. Since an early age they have been involved in a religious practice native to Cuba called Lucumí and more popularly known as Santeria. A pantheistic religion, Lucumí arose by a process of syncretism. It combines the beliefs and practices of the Yoruba people, who once comprised most of the enslaved people of Cuba, and Roman Catholicism, the sanctioned religion of the island’s Spanish Colonial rulers. In part to conceal the practice of Lucumí, Catholic rituals and sacraments were conflated with those of the Yoruba. Saints became an alternate manifestation of Yoruba deities known as orishas. As with seeking the blessings of saints, followers of Lucumí seek the good will of orishas so that they will benevolently offer guidance and protection in life.

In their current series of photographs, the Jiménezes have visualized the representation of deities within the syncretism of Lucumí and Catholic beliefs. Pictured are symbolic figures, their faces deeply shadowed or obscured, but identifiable through iconography much the same as the saints seen in old master paintings. This reference to the history of European painting is made explicit in works like The Grand Odalisque, which echoes Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s painting of the same name. The Jiménez photograph depicts Oshun, the orisha of beauty, love, and fertility, reclining on a yellow drapery, her iconic color. Unlike Ingress overtly seductive odalisque, Oshun is a mere silhouette in black, an aloof deity covered with sparkling gems like stars in a night sky.

In The Apotheosis of Lucumí, François Lemoyne’s masterpiece The Apotheosis of Hercules is the stirring backdrop for a beautiful allegorical figure representing the Lucumí religion. Surrounding her from Lemoyne’s painting are the gods and goddesses of the ancient classical world, another pantheistic religion which in turn was to be conflated with later Christian practices, saints, and celebrations.

Other deities portrayed in these works include Ibeji, the orisha of twins. The Jiménezes posed for this photograph costumed in ruff collars that recall Cuba’s colonial past. El Padre, El Hijo, Y El Espíritu Santo presents Obatala, creator of human bodies, shown in three different positions representing the Trinity. Yemaya, mother of all orishas, is the subject of Blue Chapel, her associated color. In this work’s four panels she is a dark figure seen with the pale image of God the Father. They sensually express the evolving relationship between the two deities and between Lucumí and Christianity. The panels represent, in sequence, rejection, acceptance, advocacy, and interdependence. Blue Chapel exquisitely conveys the mystery, allure, and power these intertwined religions have for their followers.