Hanging on the wall at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Cuban artist José Bedia's drawings look like they come from a distant yet familiar past. They resemble pictographs found on rocks in the Arizona desert or Neanderthal cave paintings in Europe. Some could appear on the walls of ancient temples in Mesoamerica. Others resemble African artwork.
All of this is intentional. Bedia wants to breathe new life into tribal aesthetics in order to bring us closer to our origin, closer to the Earth.
"His position is very simple. He believes that what we call the third world was really the first world, the truth," says gallerist Fredric Snitzer, Bedia's longtime friend and art dealer and a teacher at the New World School of the Arts. "All of those things, he believes, are much more connected to nature, much more relevant, and have much, much more information about how to live your life. And also spiritual connection."
Motifs such as stylized animals and mythological imagery reflect the artist's syncretic practice. The exhibit shows various animals, from birds in flight and big cats chasing to a series of godlike figures with animal heads atop human torsos. A semicircular painting of his featured in a Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibition on Latin American art recalls a sky full of constellations. All reference indigenous beliefs that include multiple traditions from Southeast Asia and Mexico, as well as Cuba and Haiti, — and Africa by proxy of those islands' Black populations. An element in one of these drawings may contain multiple meanings at once, hearkening back to a practice like Santeria, where a statue of a Catholic saint may represent multiple African deities just as it represents a Christian icon.
"The other thing is there's almost always some sort of word, some sort of narrative, a caption. And a lot of that comes from the influences of comic books, graffiti," Snizter explains. "I think his position is very syncretic. He sees the value in the crossovers."
Many other artists have mined so-called "primitive art" for their own work. Canonical modernists like Pablo Picasso famously appropriated African masks for inspiration, and fellow Cuban Belkis Ayón retold myths from the Abakuá secret society of Afro-Cuban origin. Bedia takes care to make sure those references don't get lost in the process of combination. He wants to show the viewer that people all over the world have more in common than they know.
"The message is simple: The stuff we thought was primitive and stupid and without value has tremendous value, and we just don't understand it," Snitzer says.
"José Bedia: Simetria Natural." On view through Saturday, May 20, at Fredric Snitzer Gallery, 1540 NE Miami Ct., Miami; 305-448-8976; snitzer.com. Admission is free. Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.