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Latin American Studies

Elio Vilva Art Show

The Brunswick-Trinidad Sister City Association presents:

Summoning The Spirits:
The Saints of Santería In Cuban Art

An Art Show with Paintings by
Elio Vilva-Trujillo
Opening and Reception:
Friday, January 27, 2006   4:00 - 7:00 PM
Paintings on Display:
January 27 - February 28
Daily 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Moulton Union, Lancaster Lounge

The Artist
Santería and The Orishas
Event Program (PDF)
Interview with the artist
Orisha Descriptions in Vilva's Paintings
See some of Vilva's Paintings (Flash)


Bowdoin College Co-Sponsors:
Latin American Studies Program
Africana Studies Program
Latin American Student Organization
Department of Romance Languages
Department of Art


The Artist
                Elio Silvio Vilva Trujillo has done extensive research on the religious iconography of African origin in his native Cuba.  He explores the colorful imagery and rich symbolism of these spiritual traditions, which were instrumental in slave liberation movements and have greatly influenced music, literature and other cultural manifestations throughout Latin America.  His work has been shown in Cuba, Italy, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Belgium as well as art galleries in New York City, Los Angeles, and New London, Connecticut.
                Vilva graduated as a teacher specializing in grammar and literature. He worked as a professor in junior high school and in the Municipal Department of Culture Trinidad as Head of the Division for Houses of Culture and Amateur Artists. He carried out research work on popular traditional culture and African Religions.
In 1983 he was appointed Head of the Provincial Methodological Center of Amateur Artists (Sancti Spiritus) to work with professors of music, theater, dance visual arts, and literature. For twelve years he worked as a reporter of cultural issues and was awarded a special prize during the 5th National Colloquium of the Artistic and Literary Critic.
                Vilva was also awarded outstanding performance recognition by the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) in 1986. In 1989, he returned to Trinidad to work in cultural programs. In 1991 he was appointed director of the Universal Art Gallery in Trinidad, until 1994 when he started working at the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC). In 2002, he decided to work as an independent artist. It was in 1991 when Vilva began to paint the Orishas and Afro-Cuban religions. He is married with two children.

Santería and the Orishas
                Santería originated in Cuba as a combination of the Western African Yoruba Religion and Iberian Catholicism. It is one of many religious traditions that resulted from the presence of Africans in the New World. Since the slaves were prohibited from practicing their native religions, they secretly superimposed Catholic saints and personages on their own spiritual figures (called Orishas). Thus, it looked like they were praying to a saint or to the Virgin Mary, but they were also invoking one of their Orishas. In time, both belief systems blended together.  The traditions from West Africa were reinvented and fused with Indigenous and European elements creating a rich example of the cultural syncretism that characterizes Latin American cultures.
                Santería provided key symbols for slave resistance and liberation movements throughout Latin America, and has been a source of inspiration for many artists, writers and musicians.  Most of the internationally known Cuban rhythms, for example, can be traced back to the rituals of the Yoruba religion. Salsa and Latin Hip-Hop songs frequently include references to the Orishas. Today, Santería is a source of community cohesion and guidance for many Cubans both in the island and in the United States.

            There are five different levels of power in the Yoruba cosmology:  Olodumare, the Orishas, human beings, human ancestors, and the lowest group (which includes plants, animals, natural entities, and manufactured items).  There is one supreme God, Olodumare (also know as Olorun).  He is the source of Ashe, the spiritual energy that makes up the universe, all life, and material objects.
            The Orishas
            Dr. Kwame Nantambu, Professor Emeritus at Kent State University, provides this description of the Orishas: “The God Olorun interacts with the world and humankind through emissaries [who] rule over every force of nature and every aspect of human life. They are approachable and can be counted on to come to the aid of their followers, guiding them to a better life, materially as well as spiritually. Communication between Orishas and humankind is accomplished through ritual, prayer, divination and ebo or offerings (which include sacrifice). Songs, rhythms, and trance possessions are also means with which followers and believers interact with the Orishas and how they are able to affect their day to day lives so that they may lead deeper and fuller lives during their stay in this world.”
            Each Orisha is guardian over a certain aspect of human life –such as war, health or water–, and has a distinctive group of symbols with which to be summoned through all human senses. This explains the colorful set of images, rhythms, textures, flavors and aromas of the Santería iconography.  These symbols are used according to the particular aspect of life being addressed. For example, worshippers will wear a beaded necklace with elaborate patterns with the colors of the Orisha to whom they wish to summon for advice or celebration.  Certain rhythmic patterns or instruments are selected for that purpose, too. Offerings can be made with items such as candy, candles and fruits, to name a few.  Animal sacrifice, although rare, is used for special occasions such as death or misfortune.  Other forms of sacrifice, such as giving up a pleasurable activity for a while, are common ways to seek an Orisha’s assistance.
Elio Vilva’s paintings included in this exhibition represent several of the most significant Orishas (but there are hundreds more).  In the displays, you will observe and learn about: Eleggua, Yemaya, Babalu Aye, Olokun, Chango, Ochosi and Obatala.

Asociación de Hermandad
Sister City Association

Our vision is to foster a spirit of friendship and cooperation with citizens of Trinidad, Cuba and the Brunswick area, person to person and community to community, through promotion of creative and constructive non-political interactions with the people of our sister community; experiencing their culture and sharing our culture with them; recognizing and appreciating both the differences and the similarities in our two cultures.
For more information, please contact: Susan Weems, susanweems@gwi.net