A new kinetic work by the Colombian sculptor Joaquín Restrepo on display at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries in Coral Gables represent an important saint in the region’s syncretic religion.

The carved wooden head depicts the Yoruba deity Yemoja, also known as Ayeyama and in Cuban Santeria, Yemayá. She is a mother figure, the patron saint of women and bodies of water, among other areas of responsibility.

According to the artist, “In traditional Yoruba culture and spirituality, Yemọja is a mother spirit; patron spirit of women, especially pregnant women; She is the patron deity of the Ogun river (Odò Ògùn) but she is also worshipped at any and all streams, creeks, springs in addition to wells and run-offs.

“Her name is a contraction of the Yoruba words Yeye, meaning ‘mother’; ọmọ, meaning ‘child’; and ẹja, meaning ‘fish’; roughly translated the term means ‘Mother whose children are like fish.’ This represents the vastness of her motherhood, her fecundity, and her reign over all living things.

“The river deity Yemoja is often portrayed as a mermaid, even in West Africa, and she can visit all other bodies of water, including lakes, lagoons, and the sea, but her home and the realm she owns are the rivers and streams, especially the Ogun River in Nigeria.”

Restrepo’s homage to Yemoja is split vertically, so it can be moved to show how the bright red interior surfaces contrast with the sculpture’s flat black exterior.

“This sculpture is a diptych and can be arranged in at least four different ways,” notes Virginia Miller, the gallery’s owner and director, “just as varied as the aegis of Yemoja.”


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