Borum, Jenifer P., Artforum International
With El Monte: Homenaje a Lydia Cabrera (Homage to Lydia Cabrera, 1993), Arturo Lindsay dedicated a rich, multimedia installation to Cabrera--the scholar of Afro-Cuban art and culture who brought the iconography of Santeria to Wifredo Lam's attention. By building five shrines dedicated to various orishas, or gods of Santeria, and two shrines honoring the forgotten history of his native Panama, Lindsay lifted the veil of secrecy that has long accompanied Santeria ritual--and artistic interpretations thereof--to reveal its symbolism without denying its spiritual dimension.
"El Monte" confirms Lindsay's role as an artist-ethnographer. Each one of the five orisha shrines presented an alchemical mix of genuine African and Afro-Atlantic ritual artifacts, such as statues and votive candles, and a range of objects drawn from popular culture. Each was backed by a large, ornately framed portrait of a specific orisha, combining both text and image, and fronted by an altar holding his or her identifying attributes. Enhanced by the pungent scent of candles and sounds subtly emanating from a hidden tape, this visual mix ofregrounded Santeria's eclectic fusion of traditional Yoruba symbolism and Catholic iconography. Guarding the entrance was the trickster Eleggua, lord of the crossroads, represented by both a statue of St. Anthony of Padua, and a small, concrete cone embedded with cowrie shells and topped with a red feather. Next was Shango, god of lightning, whose Catholic counterpart is Saint Barbara, and who Lindsay also identified with the Yoruba oshe, or sacred doubleheaded axe. The last figure, Osanyin, the one-eyed god of the forest and of healing, stands perhaps as the best metaphor for the nature of Lindsay's entire installation, and indeed of Santeria itself. …