Arturo Lindsay

Artist Statement

My interest in African retentions in the Americas has brought me to an important personal and professional crossroad where the paths of my spiritual, scholarly, and aesthetic journeys meet. As an artist, I use ethnographic research methods to uncover information people use to order their lives, construct identity, and create culture. My research findings are presented in works of art, scholarly articles, essays, and lectures. I am particularly interested in observing the African spiritual and aesthetic presence grounded in the concept of cultural mestizaje–crosscultural mixing in Latin America. My three paths were fused in 1994 when I established a studio in Portobelo, a 16th century Spanish colonial village on the Caribbean coast of the Republic of Panama steeped in magic, myth, mystery, and miracles. This experience has given me an opportunity to observe anew the ways Panamanians tell their stories through art, folklore, and ritual. In Portobelo, I became interested in telling the stories of the cimarrones—Africans who escaped from slavery, and their descendants, the Congos. I have also become interested in the Cristo Negro de Portobelo – the Black Christ of Portobelo, a large wooden statue of a black Christ bearing a cross that mysteriously arrived in the village three centuries ago. Devotees of the Cristo Negro believe the statue possesses miraculous healing powers, and as many as 60,000 pilgrims annually visit Portobelo for the feast day of the Cristo Negro de Portobelo. I return to Portobelo each year where I am now an integral part of Taller Portobelo, an artist cooperative dedicated to preserving local traditions, while developing new ones. My residency in Portobelo has completely changed the direction of my life and the way I now create and produce works of art. Recently, I began pouring libations in my installations in veneration of my ancestors and benevolent spirit beings. With this act, my installations cease to exist solely as works of art in a Western European aesthetic frame and emerge as creolized sacro-secular art objects.

In order to provide my students with an opportunity to participate in the growth and development of Congo culture, I established the Spelman College Summer Art Colony in 1997. I have since purchased 13 acres of land on the Bay of Portobelo where we are building Taller Arturo Lindsay, a permanent artist colony in which artists and students from the United States, Europe and Latin America can live and work along with the artists of Taller Portobelo, as well as emerging and internationally recognized artists, scientists, and scholars.