Vessels of Myth: The Shamanic Paradigm in the Works of Arnaldo Roche Rabell, Belkis Ayón, and Purvis Young

In this essay, Julián Sánchez González discusses three works by Arnaldo Roche Rabell, Belkis Ayón, and Purvis Young through the lens of shamanism as a cultural practice. By considering these artists’ spiritual interests, Sánchez González borrows from comparative religious studies and anthropology to open up new methodological avenues for art history. Examining the parallel visual strategies deployed in these works from PAMM’s collection, Sánchez González analyzes these artists’ interest in the otherworldly and supernatural as a way to supersede their immediate sociopolitical contexts and reflect on the contemporary human condition.

Arnaldo Roche Rabell. Whose Son Am I?, 1993. Oil on canvas. 84 x 60 inches. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, gift of anonymous donor. Courtesy Arnaldo Roche Rabell’s Estate

As the art historical field further incorporates non-hegemonic and non-Western perspectives into its discourses, our understanding of the artist’s creative process has also expanded to include the spiritual realm as a legitimate and productive field of study. Indeed, the reclamation of Indigenous and Afro-diasporic cultures and spiritualities in past decades has given way to an increased decentering and decolonization of the discipline. With roots in contemporary intellectual thought and following this epistemic shift, this paper investigates the theoretical and interdisciplinary links between artistic and spiritual practices in contemporary Caribbean art. The discussion seeks to contribute to the continued centering of spiritual, immaterial, and intangible explorations through art as a transformative force within the social body. This perspective ultimately contributes to the erosion of pervasive rationalist biases in canonical humanist thinking, which tend to be exclusionary and hierarchical.

This article considers three major contemporary artists from the Caribbean and its diaspora whose work is largely based on a spiritually-infused creative process. Focusing on three works from the Pérez Art Museum Miami’s (PAMM) collection produced in the early 1990s by artists Arnaldo Roche Rabell (1955 – 2018), Belkis Ayón (1967 – 1999), and Purvis Young (1943 – 2010), this study opens an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural conversation that considers the role of the spiritual in the development of intersectional subjectivities among artists from the Caribbean. Given their diverse compositional, narrative, and technical styles—as well as the presence of metaphorical representations of the artists’ alter-egos—these pieces address a pressing human need for transformation and, more importantly, transcendence.

In order to make the claim that these artists desire to exceed their given surroundings and corporeal limitations, this essay incorporates theoretical and methodological elements derived from the histories of comparative religious studies and anthropology. In doing so, the argument sets out to find connective threads among individuals and between communities by considering shared experiences of the spiritual and of being, despite the diverse backgrounds of the artists. By proposing an analysis of the spiritual in the Caribbean region through an interdisciplinary lens, this essay intends to open new paths of inquiry into the influence of art processes on social change. Even when infantilized, demonized, and deemed essentialist, the uses of the “spiritual” in this text seek to highlight this term’s potential for creative and innovative academic thinking.

The conceptual framework of this essay takes as its foundation anthropologist Michael Winkelman’s theorization of the “shamanic paradigm.” For Winkelman, the human attainment of an Altered State of Consciousness (ASC) is dependent on a number of neurobiological processes present in anthropological records across geographies; these processes are related to the human experiences of ecstasy and spirit relations.1 This mental and physical state, usually triggered by ritualistic practices and entheogenic concoctions through the work of shamans, has been typologized in the literature of anthropology as “soul flight;” “divination, diagnosis, and prophecy;” “vision quests;” and “death and rebirth” among other terminologies.2 Reflecting “(…) a sense of connection and oneness, and personal integration,” the ASC permits subjects to engage with healing practices as strategies to cope with psychological distress and conflict3 The metaphorical possibilities as well as the beneficial properties of the ASC, then, provide us with useful grounds for formulating a theoretical framework within the scope of an art historical analysis of these selected works by Roche Rabell, Ayón, and Young.

Arnaldo Roche Rabell: Death and Rebirth

Arnaldo Roche Rabell’s painting Whose Son Am I? (1993) exemplifies the Puerto Rican artist’s symbolic explorations linking Catholicism, Protestantism, and Afro-diasporic belief systems. In this work, the artist depicts a naked Black man with blue eyes suspended in mid-air. The figure wears both a halo and an African mask. The scene is of a paradoxical nature: in the lower portion of the painting, a monstruous and disfigured maternal entity with a tilted African mask in place of a head gives birth to the central figure. At the same time, the positioning and body language of the main figure denotes a crucifixion or sacrifice. The compositional elements depicting wood scraps in front of a bright orange background might also suggest that these figures are also being burned at a stake. The work’s subject seems to be life and death; here, the two oppositional forces are conflated. Further, the artist’s removal of paint in sinuous, sharp lines lends the overall composition an impression of distress and suffering. Despite the delicate lace doily that serves as a unifying element, the painting communicates an impending sense of anguish. The title of the piece reinforces this feeling, bringing a search of origins to the fore of the work’s conceit.

The literature on Roche Rabell’s oeuvre helps us better understand the intricate iconography he chose for Whose Son Am I? Previous scholars and critics have highlighted the artist’s contributions to contemporary painting by virtue of his unique neo-expressionist style, while also attending to his complex life story that included the tragic deaths of two of his siblings and his reported spiritual and visionary experiences, which began at an early age.4 More recent writings on the artist have focused on his well-known corporeal and material-based explorations through Christ’s imagery, particularly in his blue series completed in the mid-2000s. For Lilliana Ramos Collado, it is precisely through the representation of martyrdom and sacrifice through crucifixion that Roche Rabell offers his own body to the viewer as an image through which to define and debate Puerto Rican identity.5 It has also been argued that the depiction of doilies—a typical Puerto Rican household item—are meant to call up the artist’s youth, as well as functioning as a stand-in for Puerto Rico’s cottage industry that has supplied these expensive woven materials to the world since the sixteenth century.6

Analyzing the spiritual in Roche Rabell’s work on its own terms approaches a level of inquiry not usually explored in the artist’s work, as it takes into consideration narratives beyond his personal life and his national identity. This perspective emphasizes that Roche Rabell’s art incorporates not only the autobiographical, political, and racial, but also more transversal experiences, such as the cycle of life and death. This is seen in the artist’s depiction of a compound scene of birth and sacrifice, which, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, ultimately contains the promise of resurrection, evidence of our preoccupation with the finitude of life on earth. The story, then, seems to reveal itself as one of pain but also redemption and reconciliation; ultimately, the work points towards the tension between death and rebirth. Roche Rabell’s visual inquiry speaks of his own personal quest for a mythopoesis or origin story through a symbolic and spiritual exploration that integrates the imagery of different belief systems. Works on comparative religion, such as Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), shed light on the connective threads between mythology and such an existential search. For Campbell, an anthropologist and mythologist, the shared mythological narrative of death and rebirth—or death and sacrifice for that matter—found in folk tales of heroines and heroes across the globe point toward the human drive to find new wisdom in order to create life anew.7

In more practical terms, this implies that the heroine or hero’s sacrificial journey enables them “to battle past his personal and local historical limitations to the generally valid, normally human forms,” also understood as “the primary springs of human life and thought.”8 For Campbell, it is indeed the figure of the heroine or hero—the one who is able to transform from being an individual into being universal by virtue of their rebirth—that is able to teach society a lesson of improvement and personal renovation.9 In the specific case of Whose Son Am I?, then, it could be argued that Roche Rabell self-represents in the guise of a mythological hero or an alter-ego in a process of individual transmutation. This reading draws on the knowledge that the artist made self-portraits as a Black man with blue eyes in a number of other paintings, including Azabache (1986).10 Moreover, the inclusion of a motherly figure within the composition further grounds this interpretation, as it introduces a reflection of the artist’s own relationship to his mother, who served as his muse and source of inspiration and is, of course, yet another point of origin. Here, then, it is possible to see how the human (the autobiographical), the natural (the maternal), and the divine (Christological) fuse together, their interlocking recalling Winkelman’s propositions on shamanic practice and the experience of ecstasy. This iconographic intersection is the artist’s way to enact a shamanic process of death and rebirth, and to attempt to heal himself and the social body through connecting with his spiritual-creative inner voice.

By positioning the painting’s main figure in a state of irresolution and occupying an interstitial realm of existence, Roche Rabell speaks to his own constant existential search and his natural philosophical impulse.11 Roche Rabell’s questions—Why we are here? Why do we exist?—were not necessarily linked to his specific identity, but were concerned instead with larger teleological questions that exceed the realm of perceived reality.12 During his life, Roche Rabell delved into the depths of his own hero’s journey, taking up a heartfelt personal quest for meaning; in the process, he left behind a momentous legacy of artistic work. For him, as for many other Caribbean thinkers including Édouard Glissant, life could not be single-handedly defined and its riddles never entirely solved, and our identities should be seen as a shifting space of constant negotiation with oneself and with others.13

Belkis Ayón: Sinking Spirits

Belkis Ayón. Untitled (Sikán with White Tips), 1993. Collograph. 37 x 25 inches. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, gift of Louise Sunshine. © Belkis Ayón Estate, Havana, Cuba

Echoing the biography and work of Roche Rabell, Untitled (Sikán with White Tips) (1993) by Cuban printmaker Belkis Ayón also highlights the artist’s personal inclinations toward understanding and experiencing life through the lens of the spiritual and otherworldly. In this work, a medium-sized and richly-textured collography, Ayón represents the Abakúa princess Sikán as a black figure. Shown in silhouette wearing a white mask, Sikán’s body is transgressed and paralyzed by a series of incisive white spikes. The interplay of black and white adds a sense of theatricality and austerity to the composition, while Sikán’s impending doom is signaled by the winged and serpentine figures that circle above and narrow the space around her. The organic texture of their wings calls attention to their relationship with the natural world, suggesting a mythical return to nature through her ritualistic and symbolic death. Further, one non-winged figure also enters the scene, veering vertiginously towards Sikán while its counterpart comes in the upper portion of the composition grasping a textured machete close to the princess’s neck. Her impending sacrifice in the name of protecting her legion is watched over by a large looming presence in the background. This figure seems to represent Abasí, the supreme God of Abakúa, and its earthly incarnation, the sacred fish Tanze, partially represented in the upper left section of the work by its tail.

Notable critics of Caribbean modern and contemporary art including Yolanda Wood have called attention to the corporeality of Ayón’s figures, drawing particular focus to the textured and obscured treatment of the skin and the asexuality of their bodies as recurrent themes in the artist’s work.14 Reading these visual elements as commentary on the shape-shifting nature of the self and as a call for defiance of societally-enforced physical signifiers, Wood makes a case for the cryptic rendering of these figures as a rhetorical device that confronts attitudes on racism and gender discrimination in Cuba.15 In a similar vein, authors such as Adelaida de Juan explore feminist interpretations by establishing that Ayón’s work, which brings to a visual form a series of knowledges forbidden to women, enables and enacts a transgression of a male religious code, presenting its imageries, unapologetically, in the public realm.16 Further, the curatorial text penned by Cristina Vives for the 2010 NKAME exhibition declared that the mystical readings of Ayón’s work—alongside their poetic, nostalgic, and feminine interpretations—have been erroneous and misrepresentative in scope.17 Through close readings of primary sources, Vives aims to reconstruct Ayón’s artistic and intellectual pursuits, proposing, in conclusion, that Ayón’s collographs were conceived as part of the artist’s pragmatic and strategic effort to find a visual niche for her work.18

The positions laid out by Wood, de Juan, and Vives all ring true, particularly when it comes to citing the effects that Ayón’s work could have enacted as it circulated in national and international artistic circuits during her lifetime. However, it is also important to consider that certain interpretative avenues of the printmaker’s work might be unjustly precluded due to pitfalls of terminology.19 When linking Ayón’s corporeal and religious visual explorations mostly to issues of race and gender, both Wood and de Juan ultimately focus too much on Ayón’s subalternity, despite being aware of the artist’s own refusal of feminist readings of her work. Similarly, in conflating the mystical and the spiritual, Vives readily dismisses a window of opportunity for further analysis of the work that pushes beyond the false notion that the artist was a practicing member of Abakúa.

In connection with Wood’s insightful albeit underdeveloped idea of Ayón’s work as enabling simultaneous connections with multiple temporal regimes, this essay seeks to further explore how the spiritual investigations of her imagery constitute an important bastion against the linear chronologies of humanist thought.20 Following Winkelman, it could be argued that Untitled (Sikán with White Tips) illustrates a type of soul journey in which the artist, operating through the representational possibilities of Sikán as her alter-ego, explores visual strategies that speak to her own subjective ideas on reality and its permeability. This view is corroborated by an often-cited quote from the artist in which she openly identifies her work as concerned with the spiritual and incommensurable, and defines Sikán as someone who, just like herself, is “insistently looking for a way out.”21 This “out,” if seen as type of soul journey, can even be described more precisely as an underwater immersion in which Sikán (and by extension, Ayón) is taken hostage into Abasí/Tanze’s dwelling.

Such a metaphor could certainly be seen as a signifier for Ayón’s search for enlightenment and liberation via sacrifice and ultimate death. The experience of martyrdom is symbolized in the white spikes violently piercing Sikán’s skin and in the feathery arrows that appear routinely in many of Ayón’s works from this period. This opens the door for the sensitive matter of the artist’s suicide, which took place in 1999, roughly six years after this print was made. A disheartening event for Cuba’s artistic communities and an enormous loss for her family, Ayón’s suicide may also be thought of in relationship to her desire for transcendence. Her quest could have, indeed, triggered a soul-searching process that led her to near-death experiences and, ultimately, suicide. It would be possible to argue that, for Ayón, this type of exploration offered a legitimate recourse for superseding the constrictions of the “real.” This avenue of interpretation—the poetics of death—might be productive to explore. As painful as losses such as these may be, they also give us a valuable insight into the nature of the rhythm of our own lives and the cycles structuring them.

Ayón’s controversial decision to take her own life can neither be advocated nor admonished, but should be examined for what it might mean in her life story. In these painful visual explorations, the Cuban artist could have been radically pointing towards her own keen awareness of mythologies of death and their function as possible passageways to a point of departure or a place of origin. The symbolic experience of sinking underwater can work as a signifier of renewal; as anthropologists David S. Whitley and David Lewis-Williams point out, drowning and passing underwater are thought of as forms of entering the spirit world in shamanic traditions.22 This line of thinking helps us to see Untitled (Sikán with White Tips) in closer relationship to a shamanic visionary archetype, not only as a prefiguration of the artist’s death, but also as representation of her connection to an eternal and cyclical concept of time.

Purvis Young: Soul Flight

Purvis Young. Spaceman, ca. 1991. Paint on wood. 46 x 26 1/2 inches. Collection Pérez Art Museum Miami, promised gift of Chaim Katzman ©Larry T. Clemons / Gallery 721 / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Purvis Young’s Spaceman (ca. 1991) is a mid-sized painting depicting an anonymous Black astronaut in an otherworldly landscape. In the image, the astronaut’s floating body is surrounded by stars as well as horned, four-legged creatures. Despite experiencing the emancipatory sensation of weightlessness through space travel, the central figure also has chains attached to its wrists and is outfitted with hooves instead of legs. The figure is a notable composite of three recurrent iconographic motifs taken from the artist’s own oeuvre: that of the slave, signaled through the shackles; that of the angel, indicated by a helmet that takes the form and color of a halo; and that of a horse, marked by the zoomorphic rendition of the astronaut.23 Through the deprivation of its liberty as well as through its animalization, this paradoxical figure calls to mind the region’s colonial past and references the brutal mechanisms of chattel slavery in the Americas. Likewise, this slave-angel-horse figure also reminds us of our human fascination with exploring and conquering alternative spaces or realities beyond the confines of planet Earth. Stylistically, Spaceman is a balanced and delicately executed composition in which lines, color, and form, and even the work’s wooden frame, resonate with one another, working in tandem to create a visually pleasurable yet confrontational end result.

The subject matter, content, and style of this piece present us with a poignant intersection of Afrofuturist, spiritual, Black, and queer strains of thought. This proposition belies the traditional ways in which Young’s work has been posited in previous considerations—which generally categorize him as an outsider, folk, or socially-engaged artist—and allows us to consider new avenues for interpretation within the shamanic paradigm. In order to do so, this article expands on recent thinking about the Miami-born and raised artist. In response to the theoretically fraught view of self-taught African-American and Caribbean artists as “outsiders,”—a categorization that has dominated the discourse for the past three decades—this paper focuses, instead, on how Young’s work can be seen through the lens of spirituality and within a Black radical tradition.

The Rubell Museum’s recent exhibition catalogue for the most comprehensive show on Young’s work to date presents us with a good starting point for examining how these discursive mechanisms have functioned since the late 1980s.24 César Trasobares’ 1989 analysis on Young, for instance, positioned his work as a direct response to the harshness of the conditions he faced growing up and living in the Overtown neighborhood of Miami. The author’s description of Young’s paintings as an isolation of the “poetry of poverty, the life of the street, and the cosmos of despair” appears not only in the catalogue’s introduction, but is echoed across considerations of Young’s creative input, which are routinely linked to the socioeconomic conditions of the artist’s surroundings.25 Furthermore, by associating Young’s his work with “war and male aggression, institutional neglect, class struggle, the pleasure of the senses, and the travels of the imagination,” Trasobares emphasizes the sociopolitical conditions of Young’s life as the central source for his artistic inspiration.26 This critical framework can certainly be seen as a direct reflection of Young’s professed interests at the time, which he characterized as more politically-oriented than in his later stages of life.27 However, it is also Trasobares who chooses, perhaps in a market-savvy move, to see Young’s work solely in relation to race and the social conditions of inequality experienced by African-American and Caribbean communities in Miami.

A few decades later, we are seeing these discursive grounds shift towards a more comprehensive, less essentializing, and more theoretically complex vision of Young’s work. In a wonderful essay by curator Gean Moreno, the author claims a number of ideas that are helpful for reframing Young through new conceptual avenues without discrediting or discarding the conditions of imprisonment and dire poverty in which the artist built his career. The most prominent of these new channels argue that Young’s “glyphs,” or markings offer “abstract and gestural dimensions” and add a sense of fluidity and permeability to his work.28 In thinking through the almost automatic quality of these compositional forms, Moreno describes them as an access point to metastructures and ancient patterns that serve to create visual rhythms in the “flight of improvisation and the pull of cosmic pattern” that resist a single interpretation.29 This reading resonates with this article’s argument, as it opens the door for thinking of Young’s depiction of a shackled Black astronaut as resisting the homogenizing imaginaries of a progress-oriented future, and providing an entry point for a deep analysis of the failures of twentieth century utopian models.

Moreno’s idea of a “flight of improvisation,” moreover, ties together nicely with Winkelman’s idea of a “soul flight,” which he uses to recount the shaman’s ecstatic experience. For the anthropologist, the soul flight, similar to the journey into the ebbs and flows of an underwater world described by Lewis-Williams, indicates the moment when “a spiritual aspect of the shaman departs the body and travels to other places.”30 For Winkelman, these experiences involve fundamental representations of the psyche, the self, and the other, and, can be described in modern terminologies as a type of out-of-body experience of astral projection, reflecting “experiences of traveling and encountering entities from the spiritual or supernatural world.”31 Thus, when Young described his overall work as a reflection of what “he saw and felt,” we should be wary of taking such a claim as overtly literal—e.g. that what he “saw” was simply his neighborhood in Miami and its inhabitants—particularly when considering a layered work such as Spaceman or his series of planets and stars.32

It is clear from Young’s body of work, that the visual experience of the artist incorporated not only that which was readily available in his surroundings, but also included elements of an interior world, accessed in part through his connections to the spiritual realm. While further research needs to be performed on Young’s proximity with Santería practices in Miami, for instance, it is important to bear in mind the fact that he was skeptical of organized and institutionalized religion, and felt that his connection with spirituality was more personal and direct than denominational.33 In Spaceman, then, Young seems to address his inner desires for terrestrial and spiritual transcendence, giving a visual representation to the shamanic soul flight as a metaphor for a human and divine connection. In this sense, Young performs the shamanic role, acting as a mediator between worlds. This invocation of the shamanic also makes space for reading an intersection between the individual and the universal in the figure of the anonymous Black astronaut. If we take this figure to be Young’s alter-ego, as was the case in many of his depictions of Zulu warriors, then it is possible to think of Spaceman as a radical re-imagining that envisions a different future for Afro-diasporic communities and all of human kind.

For scholar Kara Keeling, African-American explorations of the integration of technology into the space of the everyday allows for a redefinition of perceived time and human experience.34 In her recent book, Queer Times, Black Futures (2019), Keeling argues that it is precisely in the intersection of Black and queer identities in which we might see a future that is invested in “the errant, the irrational, and the unpredictable,” alongside “a political imagination that posits radical socioeconomic and geopolitical transformations.”35 Drawing on traditions of Black radical thought, Keeling also asserts that Black existence posits “alternative organizations of time in which the future … has not been promised; it has had to be created by reaching through and beyond what exists.”36 This defiance of time is also found in Afrofuturist music and literature, most prominently in the work of Sun Ra, where it is manifest through renewed engagements with (outer) space. This work introduces the idea that the terrestrially homeless may find a feasible home base in outer space when no other possible future on Earth seems available or desirable.37

Young’s Spaceman offers us a scene of utopian vision for change and reinvention, a shamanic soul flight that is ultimately thwarted by the lingering presence of shackles. Even when, as Keeling argues, this astral projection or spatial exploration proposes the ultimate transgression and collapsing of time and space, Young promptly gives us an unfortunate yet realistic glimpse of a pessimistic Afrofuturism. In spite of the image of flight and transcendence that he offers, Young’s conflation of the slave, the angel, and the horse motifs makes this composition as hopeful as it is heart-breaking. Here, material conditions and extraterrestrial exploration do not seem to be enough for the emancipation of this figure. Young, then, points not only to this astronaut’s preconditions of oppression, but also to the fact that societal change will never solely depend on external fabulations or the improvement of sociopolitical conditions. Instead, these are based on the process of changing those structures from within.


By working through the different iterations of the shamanic paradigm—death and rebirth, the underwater journey, or astral flight—in relation to specific works by Roche Rabell, Ayón, and Young, this essay highlights the opportunity to rethink their work in closer conversation with their biographies and creative personalities. In all three cases, their explorations of the spiritual and otherworldly exceed other concerns related to identity-based subjectivities including race, class, nationality, and gender, which have often been the focus of previous scholarly accounts of their works. With this in mind, the essay seeks to “dematerialize” in order to “spiritualize” these artists’ oeuvres with the intention of exploring new avenues of interpretation and asserting the emancipatory potentialities of their legacies. Consequently, this conceptual exercise seeks to posit the spiritual as a possible category in which shared concerns on the nature of being are understood as part of a broader interpretive framework. This discourse of the unity of universal humanity is both imaginative and radical in scope as it calls for an understanding of the overarching, detrimental effects of the modern, linear structuring of a one-dimensional reality. Inciting an engagement with the existence of different realities, the healing powers of the psyche, and the possibilities of the afterlife, this proposal intends to surpass previous protracted ruminations on identity politics, rooting a parceled vision, instead, in the layered complexities of existence.

Methodologically, such analysis is only possible when we create space for the intersection of various disciplines—even if these intersections remain experimental and not yet fully defined. The field of art history currently lacks the analytical tools through which to engage in conversations of this nature.38 Therefore, we borrow from adjacent disciplines, including anthropology and religious histories that provide vital methods and existing research that has considered the spiritual as essential to its development. The present state of art history operates under the impression that theoretical or materialistic perspectives are the only two poles on a continuum of interpretative possibilities. This unfortunate reality places this discipline in a critical vacuum that does little justice to the spiritual complexity embedded in the creative processes of artists like Roche Rabell, Ayón, and Young—alongside many others. Better understanding of the spiritual-artistic dimensions of artistic practice, therefore, combines elements of theory and object-based observations in order to offer a perspective on reality that exceeds the limits of rationalistic ontologies. Recognizing and responding to these ideas of a reality beyond our sensorial regimes and available tools for scholarly research will require new methodologies. Ultimately, this process depends, as scholar Solimar Otero argues, on our willingness to engage with different ontological realities outside of what we have traditionally considered to be within the boundaries of human consciousness.39


Julián Sánchez González was the recipient of the 2020 CCI Research Fellowship at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. He is a doctoral candidate in Art History at Columbia University in the City of New York, and holds an MA in Art History from NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts. His research focuses on the relationship between artistic and spiritual practices in the modern and contemporary eras, particularly in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States. Sánchez González’s work has been supported by the Fulbright Program, the Ministerio de Cultura de Colombia, and the Fundación COLFUTURO. His writing has been published by the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, New York and Venezuela; Oxford Art Online;  Artsy; the Universidad Tres de Febrero (UNTREF), Buenos Aires; and the Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Bogotá.

Note from the Author:

The research and writing of this piece were possible by virtue of the generous funding of PAMM and its newly created Caribbean Cultural Institute’s (CCI) Fellowship Program. I am grateful to María Elena Ortiz and Iberia Pérez González for their hard work in making this project come to fruition, particularly when facing the administrative challenges posed by the current health crisis. Their invitation to visit Miami in the fall of 2020 for an in situ experience of the Museum’s collection as well as the many other wonderful resources the city has to offer was invaluable. I am also thankful to the following scholars, curators, gallerists, and artists for taking the time to talk with me, both in person and virtually, about our mutual interests on the relationship between the spiritual and the artistic, and for showing me their inspiring latest projects: José Bedia, David Castillo, Ronald Cyrille, Carol Damian, Edouard Duval-Carrié, Gonzalo Fuenmayor, Terri Geis, Jennifer Inacio, Erica Moiah James, René Morales, Mateo Nava, Andrea Shaw Nevins, Vickie Pierre, Nicole Salcedo, Hortensia Soriano, Josef Sorett, Charlene Spretnak, and Sarah Victoria Turner.

  1. Michael Winkelman, “Shamanism as the Original Neurotheology,” Zygon 39, no. 1 (March 2004): 198.
  2. Ibid, 195.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Robert Hobbs, Arnaldo Roche-Rabell: The Uncommonwealth (Seattle, WA: University of Washington, 1995), 7-8.
  5. Lilliana Ramos Collado, “Ecce Pictor: el azul sacrificial de Arnaldo Roche Rabell,” in Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno-CAAM, Arnaldo Roche Rabell. En azul: señales después del tacto (frottages) (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, España: Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno, 2015), 93-101.
  6. Hobbs, Arnaldo Roche-Rabell, 14-18.
  7. Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008), 8.
  8. Ibid, 12.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Francisco Cabanillas, “Arnaldo Roche: africanía a dos voces,” Centro Journal, vol. XVII, no. 2 (Fall 2005), 53.
  11. Miriam Roche Rabell (Arnaldo Roche Rabell’s sister) in discussion with the author, January 2021.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Édouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989).
  14. Yolanda Wood, “Belkis Ayón. La resurrección de los cuerpos marcados,” Atlántica: Revista de arte y pensamiento, no. 37 (2004), 95-96.
  15. Ibid, 98.
  16. Adelaida de Juan, “Sikán or the Double Transgression,” in ed. Katia Ayón, Nkame. Belkis Ayón (Additional Materials) (Madrid, España: Turner, 2010), 1.
  17. Cristina Vives, “Belkis Ayón. Su propia voz,” in ed. Katia Ayón, Nkame. Belkis Ayón (Madrid, España: Turner, 2010), 26.
  18. Ibid.
  19. I am grateful for a key conversation with Sarah Victoria Turner, Deputy Director for Research at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London and co-author of the exhibition catalogue for Enchanted Modernities: Theosophy, the Arts, and the American West, on the particular topic of the contested grounds of terminology pertaining to the spiritual in research endeavors within an academic setting. It was reassuring to dialogue on the need to further build conceptual and theoretical grounds in which these types of conversations can take place in the field of art history.
  20. Wood, “Belkis Ayón,” 104.
  21. Belkis Ayón, “Belkis Ayón: Statements by and about the Deceased Artist,” Callaloo: Art and Culture in the African Diaspora, vol. 37, no. 4 (2014), 769.
  22. David Lewis-Williams, The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art (London, UK: Thames & Hudson, 2004), 175.
  23. I am grateful to Terri Geis and to Iberia Pérez González for their valuable comments on the iconographic conflations from Purvis Young’s body of work taking place in this particular piece.
  24. Juan Valadez, ed., Purvis Young (Miami, FL: Rubell Museum, 2018).
  25. Cesar Trasobares, “Purvis Young: Me and My People,” in ed. Juan Valadez, Purvis Young (Miami, FL: Rubell Museum, 2018), 16.
  26. Ibid, 17-19.
  27. Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Interview with Purvis Young,” in ed. Juan Valadez, Purvis Young (Miami, FL: Rubell Museum, 2018), 28.
  28. Gean Moreno, “Wringing the Glyph,” in ed. Juan Valadez, Purvis Young (Miami, FL: Rubell Museum, 2018), 47.
  29. Ibid, 48.
  30. Winkelman, “Shamanism,” 196.
  31. Winkelman, “Shamanism,” 200.
  32. Obrist, “Interview with Purvis Young,” 23-25.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Kara Keeling, Queer Times, Black Futures (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2019), 3.
  35. Ibid, 51.
  36. Ibid, 53-54.
  37. Ibid, 72.
  38. Charlene Spretnak, The Spiritual Dynamic in Contemporary Art: Art History Reconsidered, 1800 to the Present (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 2 – 9.
  39. Solimar Otero, Archives of Conjure: Stories of the Dead in Afrolatinx Cultures (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2020), 4.