Dr. Raul Moarquech Ferrera-Balanquet’s upcoming performance and exhibition at the 7th Annual Black and White Affair: Celebrating the Cuban Diaspora, opens December 29, 2018. He will also participate in The State of The Arts: Performance and Installation Artist Salon, which opens on January 3, 2019—both at The Box Gallery, West Palm Beach.
The performative tendencies of human expression have evolved through time and specialized according to ideology, be it religious, intellectual, political, cultural, or social. Witnessing Dr. Ferrera-Balanquet’s performances is an exercise in mental expansion and collective examination of one’s cultural ancestral impact and history. Eggegun, the Orisha of the Ancestors, is a performance mired in symbolism and ancestral remembrance, so intimate in many ways that the audience plays a voyeuristic role, whether they are cognizant of this or not.
This work is the result of a mind that tirelessly explores human histories and their constructs to manifest the underbelly of who we are, yet also reveal the hope of what we can do with that knowledge to transcend the Eurocentric foundations that still cast a shadow on our global and intersectional knowledge. Performance, visual work, and conversation by a maestro – a not-to-be-missed syzygy gifted by the ancestors.
Performance’s roots go well beyond the movements that are recognized today as precursors to contemporary performative practice, i.e. Action Painting, Fluxus, Happenings.
Our very need for storytelling gave birth to performance and its history. Sharing cultural and spiritual knowledge with our own and others for future preservation is always more poignant when aided by the natural theatrics of human storytelling, as traced from early human dances to the spectacles of Medieval troubadours to contemporary artists. And not far from the tree is ritual practice, which each tradition and culture on this planet has shaped to their own peoples and knowledges. Contemporary performance, however, is a
much more conscientious endeavor at an intellectual level and it demands discipline and complete understanding of the message embodied by the performance itself.
For Ferrera-Balanquet, performance is part of three decades of interdisciplinary art practice.
He is a prolific writer and academic, who has won numerous awards including the prestigious Fullbright Fellowship. In studying more about his performance, Eggegun, the Orisha of the Ancestors, I engaged him in conversation and learned that a common mistake made by certain academics and other folks, confuses two different Orishas: Egun, the Orisha of death, and Eggegun/Egungun, the Orisha of the ancestors. At the crux of this misunderstanding is a key issue Ferrera-Balanquet addresses throughout his work: colonialist misinterpretation of non-Western European peoples: their culture, beliefs, and
knowledge. Without further inspection I would have made an embarrassing mistake, and yet it is a common misconception that mostly goes unaddressed because of blind belief in academic authority, especially when ‘authority’ is unofficially defined as an educated person who is part of the dominant culture, e.g. patriarchal, Western, Anglo-European & Co.
Eggegun, the Orisha of the Ancestors, is more than a performance in the artistic sense. It is a very personal and intimate ritual and an educational opportunity for those that closely pay attention.
Eggegun, is not simply the travesty mispersonified as ‘diablitos’ by centuries of syncretism between Roman Catholic and Western African traditions throughout Latin American and Caribbean communities.
The costumes themselves have patterns, colors, layers, and styles that are infused with meaning. For a thinker and artist of Ferrera-Balanquet’s caliber, each of these things matter and are thoughtfully included in the performance with the utmost care to honor each of the traditions that inform it.
In art history there are defining moments, some are bombastic and some are subtle. The more subtle changes are like water that slowly erodes marble stone; if you get complacent you might just miss it.
“As we enter a new epoch in West Palm Beach,” says Rolando Chang Barrero, curator at The Box Gallery, “there will be a remarkable change in the work presented at gallery. The upcoming Eggungún performance and exhibition has a deep intellectual depth and academic resonance. I believe it is time to initiate a more powerful international dialogue in the arts that allows our artists acclaim in the world arena. In the last few decades fine art has been relegated to the conditional state of trends in the market place, resulting in very serious losses of development and advancement. West Palm Beach is no longer just a tourist destination, but a world class city and the responsibility of the cultural institutions, the art galleries, the art centers, and our museums is to reflect that.”
What Ferrera-Balanquet brings to the table is a public service announcement with a dash of responsible wokeness that seeps into his work as a US Latinx, Cuban American, professor, artist, community and cultural activist. Attending any of his events, performances, or lectures is an enriching experience on many levels, because what his audiences see or listen to has substance beyond the superficial and pleasant aesthetics of his work, for he is truly a master storyteller.
Raul Moarquech Ferrera-Balanquet: A Master Storyteller