La Limpia Series

NOTE: "La Limpia" means "Energetic Cleansing"

This work is based in my search for the beliefs, philosophies, and healing practices that may have been those of my ancestors. Written records of world history, as well as the oral histories of my ancestors inform me of my West African and Native American (Iroquois) heritage. Unfortunately, the cultural and political climate in which my great-grandmothers lived did not encourage or permit the holding on to, practice, or expression of their traditional West African and North American indigenous beliefs and healing practices and all but a few nuances of these were lost to me.

My research on the people of African and indigenous descent who live on the southern coast of Mexico has included oral history taking about traditional beliefs and ritual practices and making black and white photographs including portraiture and documentation of rituals and daily life in their communities. From the women there, I have learned about how a woman protects herself from negative spiritual influences in pregnancy and after the birth of her infant, rituals for energetic cleansing and the treatment of illness, and rites marking an individual's passage from this world into the next. Although the women do not identify themselves or know that they are of African descent, their rituals and practices seem to refer directly to Akan and Yoruba (African) practices. As I spent time with the Mexican women, learning about their traditions, I felt as if I had found the knowledge that my foremothers were unable to pass down to me.

Thinking about what the Mexican women taught me, I made portraits of myself together with the objects and materials that are components of their traditional African-indigenous rituals. My body gestures refer to ways of positioning the body that confer meaning according to Kongo spiritual and cultural systems. In the Kongo culture bodily gestures represent those personal characteristics that are valued. These gestures are often seen in Kongo sculptural art. I also made still lives of the objects that are symbols or are important components of the rituals. These images are about the way I have thought about these practices in relation to my own body, soul, and spirit. The images are printed by silver gelatin process on fiber then they are sepia toned. Certain objects in each composition are highlighted by surface painting using gold leaf and mica pigments. Each (unframed) piece measures19" x 19". I continue working on this project. Recently I have been making photographs of myself giving myself some of these spiritual treatments, focusing on the movements of the body involved in the ritual.

Click the thumbnails to view selected photos in this series.