“…you feel as if you’re witnessing an intense, spiritual ceremony channeled by the artist with a generous dollop of flair and eloquence.”
Edward Goldman, KCRW, September 20, 2011
Large-scale figurative paintings and drawings and an installation by José Bedia come together in this major retrospective that explores the artist’s spiritual genealogy as it relates to his Cuban-based religion and its central African source, as well as his explorations of the beliefs of indigenous American peoples. It is here that this “transcultural pilgrim” has found so much personal material for his spiritual and artistic practices. The exhibition also includes an altar created by Bedia and three alcoves that present selections from his vast collection of indigenous arts—ledger drawings from the Southern Plains, peyote boxes, Yaqui masks, and Central African power figures—that are the wellspring of his creativity.
The trajectory of Bedia’s work unfolds as a narrative of the transcultural journeys he has made. The first section includes eight works that deal with Bedia’s involvement with the Afro-Cuban religion Palo Monte, which he has practiced since the early 1980s in Cuba. Bedia was initiated into Palo Monte in 1983 and immersed himself in the religion’s history and rituals.
For Bedia the power of the central icon of Palo Monte, the nganga (a cauldron or pot), takes on iconic proportions and is a recurring motif in his work. A number of paintings in this section portray the nganga—first shown empty and then on other canvases filled with the sacred objects that signify the artist’s increasing knowledge and power attained through initiation and practice.
The works in the next section of the exhibition comment on and chronicle Bedia’s travels in Mexico, as well as his studies with Lakota peoples and visits to shamans in the Peruvian Amazon. Another grouping features four works that pay homage to Caribbean revolutionary figures that combined their religious beliefs with a strong sense of activism and social justice. Three final large paintings, each approximately 15 feet wide, reflect Bedia’s long-standing interest in African art, as well as the pilgrimages he made to Zambia to work with diviners and view masquerades.
Three “Moments of Inspiration” present objects from José Bedia’s personal collections that relate to the subjects of his paintings within the gallery. Bedia is an ardent collector; his Miami home contains hundreds of sculptures, textiles, and drawings, principally from Africa and the indigenous Americas. Of this vast collection he says, “I collect these objects to learn from them. For me, this is like a library. These are my books. That’s why I keep them in front of me every day.”
Fowler OutSpoken Conversation: José Bedia, Judith Bettelheim, and Janet Catherine Berlo
Culture Fix: Lauren (Robin) Derby on José Bedia’s paintings
Culture Fix: Judith Bettelheim on José Bedia
Transcultural Pilgrim: Three Decades of Work by José Bedia is organized and produced by the Fowler Museum at UCLA and guest curated by Judith Bettelheim with co-curator Janet Catherine Berlo. Major support for the exhibition is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Donald B. Cordry Memorial Fund. Additional support is provided by the Fay Bettye Green Fund to Commission New Work, the Pasadena Art Alliance, the UCLA Latin American Institute, and Manus, the support group of the Fowler Museum.