28 February – 28 April, 2019 Rooms 4 and 5. First Floor
This exhibition is dedicated to Joaquín Yebra-Pimentel, who exhibited his African art collection in the Eugenio Granell Foundation’s Museum a fair number of years ago, in 1999. But it was one of the first important ones.
I learned a lot from Joaquín, mainly about the love one can have for a culture that seems strange compared to our own and which, without prejudice, leads to learning as much as possible about the other person. He was not very talkative, but when he spoke his words were important. Without any presumption. I also learned from him how to set up a well-conceived exhibition, with the necessary spaces to ensure that every piece earns the value it deserves.
In the catalogue African Art: The Third Dimension, I wrote:
“When I visited his house to see the African pieces, I began to measure them and to imagine the exhibition; the exhibits had taken over the apartment. They were everywhere. Meticulously looked after. Many of them with individually made iron bases. They lived there. There, they were loved and respected.”
As you will see, especially in Room 4, all the cultures featured here are interested not only in everyday life but also in religion. In the case of Mesoamerica, this syncretism developed during several centuries.
Room 5, which is mainly centered on masks, also reflects the importance in all cultures of traditions, religious representations and the passage through the different stages of life: youth and initiation; respect for the elderly; the great importance of death as a step towards the unknown beyond.
As Granell once said, “ceremonies are their exaltation of what they do and what they believe in.” (Interview with Javier Ruiz).
The artistic expressions of Africa’s different cultures were essential forces in the development of 20th-century art, since they exerted a powerful influence on artists such as Picasso, Léger, André Breton, Apollinaire… There is a well-known photo of André Breton sitting at a desk in his office and, behind him, we can see an interesting collection of small figures from different cultures. Although Granell never visited or lived in Africa, he also felt attracted by its art and collected masks and objects from this incredible continent, which has sadly been mistreated by western societies.
The cultures of Mesoamerica likewise influenced several European artists, especially Yves Tanguy with his exquisite collection featuring, among other objects, kachinas belonging to the Hopi and Zuni cultures in the USA… Coloured figures that are toys used to help children learn about their culture. There are still artists in these societies devoted to the task of creating such figures.
Granell, who lived for many years among different cultures in the Caribbean, as well as in the United States, was not indifferent to them and, over the years, gradually acquired a good representation of everyday objects, toys, musical instruments and, mainly, masks. As mentioned above, Room 5 is devoted exclusively to masks from the collection donated to his city, Santiago, by Eugenio Granell and his wife Amparo. Since we were unable to display all the masks, we chose a selection based on their importance in relation to particular themes.
The African masks, from several of the continent’s ethnic groups, are used in the different rites –religious and social– that govern the life of these varied cultures.
The masks from Guatemala are called “morería” masks. For centuries, they have been bought or rented to celebrate important events in life. We chose the Guatemalan masks that represent two conquistadors, Hernán Cortés and Pedro de Alvarado, and soldiers and Moors. A side exhibit features a Mexican mask of Melinche, one of the few women represented and who, as we know, was Cortés’ partner and translator. Malinche and Cortés had a son, Martín, who was the first mestizo of the said culture.
Loíza Aldea, in Puerto Rico, has an interesting tradition of creating masks made of coconut and painted in bright colours, to which horns are added. These masks are worn by so-called vejigantes, who wear bright jumpers to celebrate, mainly, St. James’ Day. Today, these parades are held to protest against the so-called conquest. It is also interesting to note that three St. James are represented in this village: St. James of Children, St. James of Women and St. James of Men. These figures are small, depicted on horseback and kept during the year in a caretaker’s house.
On the first floor, Room 4 features household objects belonging to the collection (cups, plates, a chair…). Religious objects: such as several Mexican “Trees of Life,” two Peruvian churches, a Magi from Puerto Rico, Adam and Eve from Mexico. We have also chosen some musical objects.
This is one of the first exhibitions of this ethnic art collection that is presented from an educational perspective. (Natalia Fernández Segarra. Director of Fundación Eugenio Granell).