In July 1993, coinciding with her participation in the XLV Venice Biennale, Belkis Ayón visited the house and ceramic workshop of  Stellana Poletti (Italy, 1940-2011) for several days, who hosted Ayón during her visit to Venice, coordinated by the curator Cristina Vives, Ayón’s friend and representative at the time.

The workshop located in Arcade, Treviso, welcomed Ayón in a professional and family relationship that to this day keeps the Poletti family committed to promoting the work of Belkis Ayón. This was the only time that she ventured into the ceramic technique, in this case majolica, a specialty of the Stellana Poletti workshop. The three murals made by Belkis Ayón were kept in the Poletti ́s artwork archive for years and it was only in 2020 when Patrizia and Simone Poletti (Stellana ́s daughter and son) found the pieces and revealed their existence.

Patrizia Poletti, Belkis Ayón and Nicola Malvasi at the Poletti ́s family house, Arcade, Treviso, July, 1993.

Untitled, 1993 | Mineral oxides, white enameled majolica mosaics on red paste | 50 x 70 x 3 cm

Belkis Ayón

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On February 2nd and 3rd of 2020, the curator Cristina Vives surveyed, cataloged, and photographed the pieces in the Poletti’s home and workshop. Given the artistic and historical value of the works, she decided to include them in the Belkis Ayón, Retrospectiva exhibition at the Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (November 2021 – April 2022) of which she was the curator.

For the first and only time, these murals drawn with mineral oxides on a white-glazed red clay were presented to the public and are documented in the exhibition catalogue. The murals have remained to this day in the Poletti family collection in Arcade, Treviso, and are now shown at The Permanent Journey, at Galerie Ron Mandos.

Process of cataloging and photographing the 3 mosaic mural by the curator Cristina Vives at Polettis ́s family house in Arcade, Treviso, February 2nd-3rd, 2020. Photo: José A. Figueroa.

Patrizia Poletti and Nicolla Malvasi during a guided tour to the exhibition at the Centro de Arte Museo Nacional Reina Sofía, Madrid, December, 2021. Photo: José García Poveda.

Testimony of Simone Poletti. Arcade, Treviso. February 3, 2020

In the summer of 1993, a young Cuban participant in the Venice Biennale of that year came to our house and ceramic workshop in Arcade, invited by our mother, the artist Stellana Poletti. It was Belkis Ayón and I remember her with a piercing, yet sweet look. She was always smiling and silent. During her stay in the workshop, with almost childish curiosity, she began to go through the experience of ceramics that until then she had not considered for her work. Her attention to the majolica decoration process was maximum…

Untitled, 1993 | Mineral oxides, white enameled majolica mosaics on red paste | 70 x 70 x 3 cm

Belkis Ayón

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Untitled, 1993, Mineral oxides, white glazed majolica mosaic on red paste, 30 x 30 cm. Poletti Family Collection, Arcade, Treviso, Italy.

…The next day, after doing some color application tests, using various incision techniques and using sponges and pigments, she arrived at the workshop with all her idea elaborated in her head, without the need for any previous sketch, except for a few notes on a piece of paper. In almost religious silence, she began to draw with metallic oxides on the white-glazed red clay support…

 

In those days our workshop had only two spaces and she chose to work in the one that faced south, towards the garden and the fields. We, from the other room, felt her working silently, but we knew she was full of spiritual and artistic value.

As a result, three murals of different sizes were born that we baked at the usual 950° degree of enamel melting. But ceramics is not a perfect industrial process; includes alchemy, is susceptible to accidents, errors and surprising satisfactions. For some technical reason, incomprehensible to us even today, the indicated cooking program exceeded the expected temperature. The surprise was great when we opened the oven and verified that the result was magnificent, as was the pleasure of working with her.

Thanks Belkis.

Curator Cristina Vives & Estate Belkis Ayón during a guided tour to the exhibition at the Centro de Arte Museo Nacional Reina Sofía, Madrid, December, 2021. Photo: José García Poveda.

Belkis Ayón in front of 'Pa’ que me quieras por siempre' (To Make You Love Me Forever) at the 45th Venice Biennale, 1993.

'Pa’ que me quieras por siempre' (To Make You Love Me Forever), 1991. Collograph, 18 parts, 436,7 x 210 cm. Catalog raisonné Nkame, Belkis Ayón, Madrid, 2010.

The three murals made by Belkis Ayón in Treviso were compositions in which she returned to some of the characters and situations already dealt with in previous works dating from 1991 and 1992: Nlloro, the triptych The Consecration I, II, and III, and most especially a version of Sikán’s head, similar to the one in Pa ́ que me quieras por siempre (To Make You Love Me Forever) the largest and most complex collography produced by Ayón to date and which was being exhibited at that very moment at the Venice Biennale…

Nlloro, 1991, Collograph, 9 parts, 215 x 300 cm. Catalog raisonné Nkame, Belkis Ayón, Madrid, 2010.

La consagración II (The Consecration II), 1991, Collograph, 12 parts, 230 x 303 cm. Catalog raisonné Nkame, Belkis Ayón, Madrid, 2010.

La consagración III (The Consecration III), 1991, Collograph, 12 parts, 207 x 303 cm. Catalog raisonné Nkame, Belkis Ayón, Madrid, 2010.

Untitled (Sikán with cane), 1991, Silkscreen print, 475 x 640 mm. Catalog raisonné Nkame, Belkis Ayón, Madrid, 2010.

…Her ceramic experience in Treviso, unique in his entire short career, was indeed an unprecedented experimental moment, full of surprises that would only be revealed after the oven was opened and pieces had been fired. But in my opinion, the most important thing about that experience was that Belkis was drawing with metallic pigments applied with brushes, sponges and incisions on a white enameled surface (majolica), a process and tools far away from her traditional method of ‘drawing’ on her collographic matrices, which consisted of a collage of figures achieved by cutting and gluing paper and cardboard pieces of very different kinds.

Belkis Ayón’s murals made in Treviso imply the creative audacity of the young artist at the time, the unmistakable mastery of all her works and, surely, the influence of Venice.

(Cristina Vives)

Simone Poletti during the assembly process of 'Sin título, 1993' at the ceramic atelier of the Poletti ́s family “Theo Design”, Treviso, 2020. Photo: José A. Figueroa.

Patrizia Poletti, Simone Poletti and curator Cristina Vives at ceramic atelier “Theo Design”. Treviso, 2022. Photo: José A. Figueroa.

Simone and Patrizia Poletti at the Poletti ceramic atelier “Theo Desing”, Treviso, 2022. Photo: José A. Figueroa.

Assembly process of the tiles of 'Sin título, 1993' at the ceramic atelier of the Poletti ́s family “Theo Design”, Treviso, 2020. In the photo: Curator Cristina Vives, José A. Figueroa and the Poletti Family.

Through her work, Belkis Ayón has significantly contributed to the landscape of contemporary Cuban art. Her legacy continues to inspire and serve as a testament to the power of art in capturing the complexity of human experience, exploring the depths of our collective history, and ultimately, illuminating the path toward a more integrated, harmonious future.

About the artist

Although a self-declared atheist, Belkis Ayón (1967-1999) dedicated her life’s work to the codes, symbols, and tales of Abakuá, a secret Afro-Cuban fraternal society whose foundational myth is based on a woman’s act of betrayal. Throughout her oeuvre, Sikán, the princess typically depicted with no facial features but her eyes, is imagined in various religious scenes, as well as in mysterious scenarios redolent of Ayón’s life – one belonging to a real Afro-Cuban woman at the end of the millennium, occupied by her own interior dramas.

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