James C. Lewis…honors the African origin of the Òrìṣà tradition. James acknowledges that just as the tradition has become a part of the African Diaspora, and therefore reflects various cultural interpretations, it is his intention to honor the traditional African origins of this beautiful system. Therefore the images contained therein highlight the artist’s vision of the original ancient Yorùbá deities from Nigeria and Benin, West Africa.
Lewis’ approach to the òrìṣà deserves attention, and has the distinct virtue of departing from popular images that rely heavily on tropes of minstrelsy that influenced their depiction in dance as well as other arts in Cuba, Brazil, and elsewhere. The stereotypical representation of Ọ̀ṣun/Ochún/Oxum, Ye̩mo̩ja/Yemayá/Iemanjá, and the male Warriors is usually the most egregious, informed more by the conventions of colonial teatro bufo and analogous dramatic genres than by oral tradition, particularly as maintained in the verses of the Ifá and “sixteen cowries” divination systems. I would have welcomed seeing the òrìṣà in a wider range of body types, ages, and so on, especially bearing in mind the ibú, or “pools,” attributed to some of them in the Yorùbá context (called caminos, or paths, by practitioners of Afro-Cuban regla ocha, and often translated as “avatars,” although this term still does not capture the exact meaning). My Lucumí elders may blush at the sexualized portrayal of their sacred mothers and fathers; on the other hand, the fidelity of his vision to a contemporary ideal of divine glamour is indisputable.