Alejo Deleon: Visions of an Indigenous Caribbean

March 3 - March 31, 2017, 2017

Reception: March 25, 2017; 6 - 9pm

Painting 1: Woman with Child – Acrylic on canvas, $300

In Guna villages, the men have the responsibility to provide food, while women prepare it and carry out other household tasks. Men fish or farm, while women take care of the children, cook, wash clothes, haul water, and sew. Customarily, in the Guna community, women take up tasks according to their age. The elder women typically cook, while girls and younger women most often make molas. In this painting, Deleon depicts the differences between the everyday roles of men and women in Guna society.

Painting 2: Inna Suit (The Long Chicha)– Acrylic on canvas, $400

The Inna Suit, the final of three female puberty rituals, typically lasts for up to three or four days. Attendants drink, chant, and make music with flutes and rattles. To help prepare for the ceremony, villagers contribute bananas, corn, smoked fish, and cut sugar cane for the inna, an alcoholic drink. Men and women separate themselves during the chicha. The celebration allows villagers a measured release from their usually firm etiquette.

Painting 3: Women and Daily Life – Acrylic on canvas, $200

The Guna women wear a distinctive garment, called the mola. Molas are a relatively new clothing item, dating from the late nineteenth century and incorporating many Guna aesthetic qualities, as well as features of Western culture. Girls begin practicing mola creations at a young age, steadily increasing in the difficulty of the designs. While the garment is a sign of Great Father’s creation, it also has become commercialized in recent decades, with tourist sales now serving as a main source of income.

Painting 4: Solidarity of the Village – Acrylic on canvas, $100

Without the solidarity of the community, the Guna would not exist. Every member of the village plays a role in daily tasks; men focus on agriculture and hunting, while women stay on the island to cook, care for the children, and make molas. Both the male and female members of the community contribute to making the village run efficiently. Deleon’s painting of the Solidarity of the Village depicts members of a Guna community tending to their respective jobs and working together to provide for each other. 

Painting 5: Returning from the Mainland – Acrylic on canvas, $100

The Guna live on forty-nine islands, located off Panama’s eastern Caribbean coast. Their connection to the mainland, however, is very important.  Men travel there each morning to work in the fields and to cultivate agriculture produce for their communities.  Mainland agriculture is a primary source of Guna food.  Guna men also are expert fishermen, and take great pride in their sailing and paddling skills.

Painting 6: Puberty Ceremony – Acrylic on canvas, $450

In Guna culture, a puberty ceremony held by the entire village celebrates and announces a girl’s entry into womanhood. This puberty ceremony takes place in the inna house where her father and other men build an enclosure of leaves and where she remains for four days.  Woman bathe the girl, cut her hair, and cover her with black juice. Villagers bring different items to the ceremony like bananas or coconuts. The girl serves the villagers an alcoholic drink called inna. A gandule, or flute specialist, leads the rite and performs chants, describing the process of becoming a woman.

Painting 7: On the shores of Usdup– Acrylic on canvas, $300

Usdup is one of the largest Guna settlements and was the center of the 1925 Dule Revolution. This piece illustrates the way in which Guna artists often take influences from other cultures and refashion them in their own style. This image bears a resemblance to the Virgin and Child, a painting or statue commonly seen in Catholic churches. Catholicism has a prominent role in Guna villages, due to the waves of missionary efforts which began with the Spanish conquest.  Catholic influences appear occasionally in Deleon’s works, but always enmeshed in Guna aesthetics.

Painting 8: The Grace of Nuchugana– Acrylic on canvas, $200

Deleon’s piece, The Grace of Nuchugana, depicts a Guna woman sewing a mola, with wooden figures called nuchugana surrounding her.  Nuchugana are about thirty inches tall, and resemble non-Indian men.  Specialists use the figures to connect with the spiritual world in hopes of repairing or returning a person’s soul, or burba, which affirms the Guna belief that illness derives from spiritual rather than physical ailments. The nuchugana also aid in keeping away meddlesome spirits, called bonigana. The figures are constructed from different types of wood to provide protection from a variety of bonigana.

Painting 9: Making the Wini– Acrylic on canvas, $150

In this painting, Deleon depicts a woman helping another woman tie a wini on her leg. Along with the mola, the wini serves as a major aspect of female dress. A wini consists of strategically placed long strands of beads that create patterns when wrapped around the arms or legs.  Guna families often display their wealth through the clothing and jewelry worn by the women of the house. Characteristics of female dress include complex designs, bright colors, and combinations of skirts, scarves, molas, and wini, all of which reflect their interest in beauty and artistic abilities.

Painting 10: Guna Landscape– Acrylic on canvas, $150

Artistic impulses manifest themselves in many aspects of daily life, such as basket weaving, canoe making, musical instruments, architecture, molas, medicine, picture-writings, and chants. Guna aesthetic qualities include subtle asymmetry, vibrant colors, and an aversion to unfilled spaces. As Mari Lyn Salvador and James Howe have emphasized, the Guna lead “artful lives.”  Here Deleon provides a sense of the Guna everyday beauty.

Painting 11: Guna Wedding– Acrylic on canvas, $600

This image depicts a Guna marriage ceremony which takes place with the couple inside a hammock. A large celebration, which the whole village attends, follows the ceremony and lasts several days. After marriage, the man moves in with his wife and her family. In Guna culture, the eldest daughter of the family inherits the house. The man heads the household, but the woman’s ownership of the house creates a sense of equality. Men and women split the tasks of everyday life as well.  Men harvest food while women bring in a primary source of income with the selling molas.

Painting 12: The Dule Revolution– Acrylic on canvas, $500

The Panamanian government attempted to suppress the Guna during the first decades of the twentieth century; however, Guna villages under Panamanian control revolted. In February of 1925, Nele Kantule and Cimral Colman helped lead the Dule Revolution. Eventually, a meeting between Panamanian officials and Guna leaders settled an agreement to give the Guna political autonomy. In this painting, Deleon commemorates the Dule Revolution with Nele Kantule (large left head) and Cimral Colman (large right head) prominently featured.  Annual celebrations of the revolution encourage the Guna to maintain their cultural identity.

Painting 13: “Working with the Environment” – Acrylic on canvas, $600

Jorge Ventocilla, a distinguished Guna scholar, coined the saying “working with the environment,” to describe the land’s importance to the Guna economy and the need to protect the territory Guna Yala.  The Guna obtain their food through farming, using techniques which allow the land to regenerate and avoid deterioration of the environment. The principle source of the Guna economy is the coconut trade, but tourism and mola sales have become important in recent decades.  Despite their efforts, the Guna are experiencing growing environmental problems, including land invasions and deforestation.

Painting 14: Guna Dance– Acrylic on canvas, $500

Musical artistry and dancing are key components of the Guna life. The performance arts manifest many aspects of Guna aesthetics, including vibrancy, repetitiveness, and balance. Pairs of men and women perform the dances. As depicted in Deleon’s painting, the dancers are accompanied by rattles and panpipes, and wear colorful garments. The dances follow the repetitive and pulsating melodies of the music that the men play on their instruments. The men and women dance together in an organized fashion, yet with individuality and passion.

Painting 15: Lunar Eclipse– Acrylic on canvas, $200

The Guna people have one of the highest rates of albinism in the world.  Nearly 1 in 150 of Guna Yala’s inhabitants suffers from the condition.  In contrast, albinism affects an estimated 1 in 17,000 to 20,000 people in the United States.  Albinism is so prevalent among the Guna that it appears in “Father’s Way” (Bab Igar), the complex and highly metaphorical chants that relate the Guna sacred history.  In this painting, Deleon depicts the defense of the moon.  During lunar eclipses, Albino warriors, known as the “children of the moon,” protect it from a violent dragon. 

Painting 16: Palu Wala – Acrylic on canvas, $600

“Father’s Way” (Bab Igar) is an intricate and metaphorical body of chants which narrate the Guna sacred history.  Sailas or chiefs relate the stories while reposed in hammocks in the Guna gathering houses.  In this painting, Deleon depicts the story of Palu Wala (tree of salt), whose enormous branches reached into the sky and revealed a wealth of fruits and animals.  When the Palu Wala fell to the ground, it transformed into saltwater and created the oceans.

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