Ayrson Heráclito

At a time when decolonizing narratives are slowly seeping into mainstream culture, “Ayrson Heráclito: Yorùbáiano” seamlessly fuses experiential and material poetics with commentary on social, cultural, and political history. The sixty-three artworks on display—among them installations, photographs, objects, performances and videos, all from the 1990s until the present—reference the traditions and mythologies of Yoruba culture, which filtered into Brazil through the Atlantic slave trade. Heráclito hails from the northeastern state of Bahia, which received an enormous influx of enslaved Africans, and he practices Candomblé, a syncretic religion that incorporates Yoruba beliefs into its core. This fusion is acknowledged in the portmanteau of the exhibition’s title: Yorùbáiano.

In his artistic practice, Heráclito puts forth the curative power of ritual and his understanding of the interdependence of sentient beings, irrespective of political borders, physical space, and linear time. The dual-channel video The Cleansing of Casa da Torre and _t__he Cleansing of Maison des Esclaves in Gorée, _2015, juxtaposes purification rituals performed in two different locations: one in Brazil, addressing the unhealed wounds of the Portuguese colonial system, and the other in Senegal, in reference to the slave trade. The projections of these ceremonies face each other, emphasizing the connections in these exorcisms of the past.

In Return to Bahia PaintingWall, 2002, the artist dyed an enormous wall yellow using Dendê palm oil, which collects on the floor in puddles that look like blood. To one side stands a miniature replica, also stained yellow with oil, of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of Black Men, an eighteenth-century chapel that holds special significance for the country’s African diaspora. Materials like palm oil and Dracaena trifasciata, a medicinal plant native to West Africa, appear in several artworks, speaking to a violent history that still demands cleansing.

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