A patio submerged in shadows at the back of a crowded apartment in Old Havana. Chickens moving in the corner. Turtles swimming in a bucket full of water. Marc Anthony’s song far away from the TV in the room, like from another reality. I throw shells and stones, time after time, but they are not listening to me.
The big woman in front makes a grimace. She is a madrina, the godmother, a priestess of the Afro-Cuban religion santeria. The reason we are here together is to meet los muertos, my dead people, and ask for their advice. A dark room with the frames lighted from below. Picture of a ghostly white foot; my eyes caress it, nestle in the perfectly straight cut in the middle of it. They slip away through the face of a black man half-covered with a sheet, examine the hands crossed on somebody’s chest in an eternal gesture. AIDS Related Death, the title says. I am in the morgue with Andres Serrano at Fotografiska.
When the dead talk, the madrina listens carefully, with her head tilted towards an empty chair. She smokes the cigar together with the spirit. Then she turns back to me, explains in her figurative language, repeats, “Mami, copy me, mami.” She said I have a dead ancestor who protects me, the one from some region with large fields. “What do they reap there, mami?” The sugar cane, I respond, and suddenly everything makes sense, and I see my Cuban grandfather, the one who hanged himself in the middle of the street, next to me.
Did Serrano ever talk to his muertos when taking his utterly peaceful pictures in the morgue? Or did he ever hear the voices of his Cuban ancestors talking from the depths of santeria? His perfectly clean imagery of religious statues and his streams of blood, semen and piss seem so far away from the tropical, unbridled Cuban spirituality, enclosed in colourful figures, altars bedecked with flowers, flowing with honey and rum. Yet I still see the Madonna of Regla in his Black Mary. I see Yemaya, the goddess of the seas, in his Pieta, with the girl holding a carp pressed to her breast. The blood of Saint Lazarus leaks from his Bodily Fluids series.
I go out trembling. Is it because of the turtles watching me, because she said I have a limping ghost pulling my leg when I sleep, or because I need to buy a cake and drown it in the sea with the picture of me and my boyfriend in the middle of it? The furry head of El Gran Cabron and the nail piercing through the feet of the crucified Christ. The unholy red halo around the pope’s head. Tiny lights around the faceless figure of the Virgin Mary. Serrano’s fleshy, carnal spirituality hunts me as I try to slip unnoticed through the exhibition room. But the dead have already talked to me. The unearthliness stared through the photographer’s obsession with the bodily. Los muertos are here and there is no chance for redemption.
Words by Weronika Pérez Borjas
All images by Andres Serrano from previous exhibition at Fotografiska Museum
#1 Chicken (2008) #2 Jaguar Shit (2008) #3 Semen Blood III (1990)
#4 Pieta (2012) #5 Virginian Dragoon .44 Magnum (1992) #6 Piss Christ (1987)