Contemporary Offerings

In the early stages of my first book project, I wanted to write about the incredible artistry of Afro-Atlantic temporary devotional offerings. Here are some of the better images from my collection depicting small, site-specific rituals:

For Chango, photograph by Jorge García Alonso, circa 2000

For Chango, photograph by Jorge García Alonso, circa 2000
Picture 1 of 8

Permission from JGA.

Jorge García Alonso, a photographer for the magazine Opus Habana, shared my interest, and gifted me two photographs from his collection at the start of this gallery. 

Over time, as I researched my first book, I found that no matter how visually compelling, a longterm study of temporary devotional offerings wasn’t going to work. There are a whole lot reasons. Foremost among these, however, offerings are usually extremely personal. At the start of my work in 1999 to 2002,  I did ask what items left at different sites were for. Most of the people I asked made it clear that I was invading their privacy. OF COURSE I WAS. I was a bit naive. I had a lot to learn.

An anonymous web gallery here is, hopefully, reasonably respectful. I ardently pursued the topic just enough to have these images. I wanted to address how offerings are made because audiences are so full of historical fears and prejudice, and devotional offerings are usually misunderstood. The vast majority of offerings are small tokens: a doll left at a cemetery to set a spirit free; a banana for Changó at the light switch–where the divinity’s electricity can be switched on; two dolls placed together to strengthen  a relationship; and a sculpture of Eleguá left at a cemetery to mark a practitioner’s death.

Here, I would just note that most of the religious leaders I worked with insisted that offerings made to seek harm on others through religious arts could only be disastrous. Carmen Oramas Caballery (Oyadina) regularly advises that one should seek happiness for the people in your life who are difficult, “Maybe they’ll move away, maybe they’ll forget about you.” Back in 1998-1999, when noted art historian Richard Brilliant gave me a really hard time about my work (Looking back, I think he just was worried that I wouldn’t be able to justify that this was art and art history), she covered his name in honey and stuck it under her sopera (container) for the divinity Ochún. Not long thereafter he seemed to forget who I was, and started calling me by one of his preferred student’s names. Fabulous.

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