Afro-Cuban Religious Arts: Popular Expressions of Cultural Inheritance in Espiritismo and Santeraia

Afro-Cuban Religious Arts: Popular Expressions of Cultural Inheritance in Espiritismo and Santeraia

Afro-Cuban Religious Arts: Popular Expressions of Cultural Inheritance in Espiritismo and Santeraia

Afro-Cuban Religious Arts: Popular Expressions of Cultural Inheritance in Espiritismo and Santeraia


Challenges the reader in provocative new ways. Points to the salient call to action presented by local Santeréa and Espiritismo arts, ritual, performance, and other cultural forms in addressing core questions of history, legacy, and new beginnings."--Suzanne Preston Blier, author of Royal Arts of Africa

A much needed study of the manner in which the religious art of women is a fundamental dimension of Afro-Cuban religious ritual, both in the public and private spheres."--Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, author of Afro-Cuban Theology

From a plantation in Havana Province in the 1880s to a religious center in Spanish Harlem in the 1960s, this book profiles four generations of women from one Afro-Cuban religious family. The women were connected by their prominent roles as leaders in the religions they practiced and the dramatic ritual artwork they created. Each was a medium in Espiritismo--communicating with dead ancestors for guidance or insight--and also a santera, or priest of Santeréa, who could engage the oricha pantheon.

Kristine Juncker argues that by creating art for more than one religion these women shatter the popular assumption that Afro-Caribbean religions are exclusive organizations. The portraiture, sculptures, and photographs in Afro-Cuban Religious Arts offer rare and remarkable glimpses into the rituals and iconography of Espiritismo and Santeréa. Santeréa altars are closely guarded, limited to initiates, and typically destroyed upon the death of the santera while Espiritismo artifacts are rarely considered valuable enough to pass on. The unique and protean cultural legacy detailed here reveals how ritual art became popular imagery, sparked a wider dialogue about culture inheritance, attracted new practitioners, and enabled Afro-Cuban religious expression to explode internationally.


In this book, I examine the religious art created by four twentieth-century Afro-Caribbean women. the art featured here largely pertains to two distinct belief systems, Espiritismo and La Regla de Ocha. I argue that neither religious-arts practice can be understood in isolation, since dialogue among religious leaders, as well as their various arts practices, has been critical to the growth of the Afro-Caribbean religious movement. Analysis of this dialogue permits a better understanding of Creole religious arts and the way in which they reveal the critical interaction of disparate cultures in the Americas. the women presented here—Tiburcia Sotolongo y Ugarte, Hortensia Ferrer, Iluminada Sierra Ortiz, and Carmen Oramas Caballery—represent four consecutive generations of leaders from one Afro-Cuban religious family. Covering the years 1899 to 1969, their case studies allow for a close examination of the larger social and political forces that shaped the growth of Afro-Cuban belief systems in the early twentieth century while also respecting the role of individual agency in the expression of religious art. Through them, I seek to characterize a modern Afro-Cuban religious-arts movement that has set the stage for the global expansion of contemporary popular Afro-Atlantic arts.

It is important to note that this movement took shape through the creation of new familial connections, or what Roger Bastide has termed “fictive kinship.” To clarify, the four women discussed here are not blood relatives. Rather, all four lost their immediate families due to circumstances common to their respective generations and were forced to forge new family ties. Tiburcia Sotolongo y Ugarte (1861–1938) lost her mother, Josefa, in 1868. Documents pertaining to the plantation where Josefa and Tiburcia lived indicate that the cause of Josefa’s death was probably cholera, which was common among enslaved men and women due to poor housing conditions. Similarly, in Havana City, Hortensia Ferrer (1906–1992) lost her mother to . . .

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