For my Black History Month article, I wanted to go somewhere I hadn’t gone before and immerse myself in something foreign. The Nkame exhibit at the Kemper Contemporary Art Museum did exactly that. Nkame: A Retrospective of Cuban Printmaker Belkis Ayón (1967–1999) is the first in the United States to feature the work of Belkis Ayón- a Cuban visual artist who explored the mythical Afro-Cuban fraternal society, Abakuá. It may sound complicated, but one doesn’t need a complete knowledge of Afro-Cuban society to enjoy and be captivated by her striking work. Ayón’s signature technique was collography, where different materials are collaged onto cardboard and then run through a press with paper. The actual pieces are large, taking up entire walls. Each piece is dominated by an austere palette of black, white, and gray, and this immerses the viewer into Ayón’s world. By housing the exhibit in its own section of the gallery, each piece is able to compliment the others in a hauntingly beautiful way.
Reading the didactic next to each piece is a must, as it gives context to each piece. These haunting symbols are suddenly given meaning when one learns they are used in ritual practices. This air of mystery surrounding the artwork and the Abakuá secret society invites further study of each painting and the society in general.
In conclusion, Nkame is the perfect excuse to visit the Kemper. There is plenty of other great artwork housed here, as well as a café and local vendors/events. Nkame runs from January 25, 2018 to Sunday, April 29, 2018.