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Belkis Ayón

La Havana, Cuba 1967 - 1999


Belkis Ayón (Havana, 1967–1999) was a virtuosic large-scale printmaker who quickly rose in the contemporary art world in the 1990s for her innovative, multi-paneled works reflecting Afro-Cuban religion.

Throughout her career, Ayón addressed pressing issues of her time that continue to be incredibly relevant today: censorship, violence, intolerance, exclusion, inequalities, control mechanisms, and power structures. Her works are populated by mysterious, silhouetted figures with piercing, almond-shaped eyes. They derive from the mythological world of Abakuá, a secret, all-male society that was brought to Cuba by West African slaves in the early 19th century. Ayón, who took her own life when she was 32, was particularly fascinated by the female figure Sikán, who, legend has it, was sentenced to death for betraying Abakuá secrets to her lover. While many of her contemporaries were dabbling with installations, Ayón embraced the graphic technique of collography, a labor-intensive process that involves collaging materials with varying textures and absorbencies onto a cardboard matrix, resulting in an artistic language rich in the nuances and textures that went on to characterize her work.

During her brief but prolific career, Ayón participated in the 1993 Venice Biennale and exhibited in cities such as Berlin, Havana, Lima, New Delhi, and New York. Retrospective exhibitions of her work have been shown at major institutions including the Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles (2016); El Museo del Barrio, New York (2017); the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City (2018); Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (2018-2019), and more recently the Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid (2021-2022). Ayón’s work is represented in the collections of the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; the National Museum of Fine Arts, Havana; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Norton Family Foundation, and the Wifredo Lam Center of Contemporary Art, Havana.

Photo courtesy of the Station Museum of Contemporary Art
Profile photo courtesy of the Belkis’ official Website