Jan. 20-March, 2012
UAA/APU Consortium Library Building, arc gallery
Susan Matthews artwork was created as a part of the project “Secrets Under the Skin,” a multi-year project that involved the study of religious ritual and dance that migrated from Africa to Cuba through the slave trade. Detail and background on the whole project is available at a special spotlight website for the project.
One of our goals in the “Secrets Under the Skin” project has been to connect the Arara community in Perico with a parallel religious community in Dzodze, Ghana through similarities in their belief systems. Our idea was to use the practice of our own art to bring some of these similarities to light. My work in this project contains stories, images and communications between Ghana and Cuba, in the form of large scale, acrylic paintings on canvas, and smaller “illuminated manuscripts” on paper.
Twenty-one manuscripts are composed of excerpts from interviews that I have rendered in calligraphy with corresponding gilded watercolor images. My choice of this format refers back to ancient times when myths, stories, poetry, philosophy and visual images walked across Asia, the Middle East and Europe on camelback and horseback, spreading ideas and knowledge in the form of illuminated manuscripts. The illustrations are meant to spark discussion, recall memories, and move images and ideas between Ghana and Cuba, across continents, as did the illuminated manuscripts of olden times.
Throughout this process it has been important that we share our work with our collaborators in Cuba and Ghana. We have gifted prints, photos and DVDs, and exhibited our work in the local museum in Perico, where all who participated were able to view it. Their overwhelmingly positive response made it all worthwhile.
I believe that contemporary artists stand on the backs of artists and practitioners of culture from the most ancient times. Through “Secrets Under the Skin,” I have had the opportunity to look at some of the sources of music and dance that have found their way into popular culture and university curriculums in the United States, the Caribbean and around the world. The manuscripts that appear here barely scratch the surface of the many interviews that Jill Flanders Crosby, Melba Nunes Isalbe, and Roberto Pedroso Garcia have gathered over the years.I plan to continue creating manuscripts and paintings that capture the stories of Perico and Agramonte for years to come.
I became interested in Cuban folklore through my own study of percussion at Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana, where I met Jill Flanders Crosby in 1996. I have done an extensive series of paintings on Cuban folklore. Please see my website: www.SusanMatthewsGallery.com.