The Expression of Indigenous African Iconography in Afro‐Cuban Visual Art

Document Type


Document Subtype


Presentation Date

Summer 6-8-2010

Conference Name

International Conference on Fine and Performing Arts

Conference Location

Athens Institute for Education and Research, Athens, Greece


This paper analyzes the work of selected contemporary Cuban visual artists of African descent living and working in Cuba, examining the extent to and manner in which the iconography of the Ekpe society is expressed in their respective artwork. Ekpe is an indigenous masonry exclusively for men sworn to secrecy and has origins in an ancient Efik nationality in what is now Nigeria, West Africa. In order to maintain its culture of secrecy, the Ekpe society developed an indigenous calligraphic system known as Nsibidi, which is comprised of a complex variety of graphic communication symbols. Efik people sold into Cuban slavery in the 1830s founded a variant of Ekpe known as Abakuá, as well as Anaforuana, the equivalent of Nsibidi. The paper identifies three iconographic currents in contemporary Afro‐Cuban visual art in the context of Abakua‐Anaforuana. The first illustration by Belkis Ayón dwells on the mythology of Abakuá as a personal mission; the second work by Juan Antonio Picasso embeds Anaforuana within thematic constructs of social commentary; and the third piece by Salvador González Escalona renders linear calligraphic compositions. Whether or not the artists subscribe to Abakuá membership, they tend to have access to Anaforuana forms because these symbols are integral to the collective cultural memory of contemporary Cuba, where more than 60 percent of the population is of African ancestry.


Afro-Cuban visual art, indigenous African iconigraphy, ekpe society, Abakuá


Visual Studies

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