Artist Harmonia Rosales Reinterprets Genesis through a Stunning Subversion of the Sistine Chapel
At the heart of Garden of Eve, Harmonia Rosales’ comprehensive exhibition at UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills, is the power of narrative. The show spans years of Rosales’ career, featuring dozens of portraits in oil and perhaps the grandest work she’s produced thus far: encircled with lights, an upturned ship towers over the gallery, allowing viewers to pass underneath and peer upwards at the frescoed expanse.
Referencing the vessels utilized in the transatlantic slave trade, the lofty structure re-envisions the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and uses Michaelangelo’s Renaissance works as a blueprint to recast Genesis through the lens of female empowerment and Orishas, deities in religions of the African diaspora. Dozens of Rosales’ paintings, like “Birth of Eve” and her 2017 “Creation of God” that garnered viral attention, cloak the ship with a narrative that’s both widely recognizable and subversive in its telling, with Black and Latinx subjects at the center. “I didn’t want it to be a chapel ceiling because then that’s against everything I’m trying to convey, especially with this Yoruba religion,” Rosales shares with Colossal. “So why not put it on the undercarriage of a slave ship, the very thing that brought these stories to us?”
Now based in Los Angeles, Rosales has roots in Chicago, the city where she began pursuing her art practice full-time and where she first conceived of the installation. Five years in the making, the project is a testament to the artist’s dedication to long-term thinking. Her process is relatively slow and requires as much research as hours at the easel, meaning she generally produces less than ten works each year. Back then, Rosales says, “I was trying to hide behind my paintings. I was thinking that, okay, if I just paint, people will understand that, but I knew I had to really speak on the paintings myself. This time allowed me to feel comfortable and to curate my message better in a way where all can understand.”
Rosales has long been concerned with communication and comprehension, particularly as she brings lesser-known deities into the mainstream and elevates such religious figures to the status of those within ancient Greco-Roman myth and the Christian iconography that have dominated much of art history. “All along, with all of these exhibitions, I was creating puzzle pieces, pieces to the Sistine Chapel,” she says about the smaller paintings. “Now people can go back and really understand it.”
Many of the works collapse time periods and blend references, like “Forbidden Fruit,” which centers on a woman encircled in a gold halo eating a slice of the pink melon. “Ever wonder why watermelon became a cruel stereotype?” Rosales asks. “It was the one fruit that symbolized Black self-sufficiency after emancipation.” Similarly, the titular work, “Garden of Eve,” centers on Yemaya, the mother of all Orishas in the Yoruba faith. Shielding her face from the chaos of children and florals, the spirit witnesses “the disruption of her perfect garden, (which) intentionally parallels the disruption of the African continent.”
Ultimately, Rosales wants to question dominant Eurocentric narratives and to expose that the Orishas and religions she’s referencing are as old, enduring, and relevant as others. “What came first? Why have these gods been hidden? Why haven’t they been mainstreamed?” she posits. “To hide these gods, thus our identity, it’s keeping us in check. The more that they get out, the more that we are realizing that this is old. It strengthens us as a whole.”
Garden of Eve is up through November 30 in Beverly Hills. Rosales will continue working within stories of creation as she prepares for her solo show opening in March at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Until then, find more from her on Instagram.
Share this story
Art History Illustration
Plant Magick: A 520-Page Book Explores the Vast Esoteric Connections Between Botanics and the Divine
The most recent addition to Taschen’s Library of Esoterica series, Plant Magick delves into the mythical, religious, and metaphysical histories of botanical life. The vast visual compendium explores an array of human interactions with the natural world as they relate to the spiritual and symbolic. Illustrations, photos, collages, and hundreds of other artworks across mediums are nestled within the 520 pages and include references to Buddha’s meditation under the Bodhi tree, the elaborate flower crowns worn during May Day celebrations, and the mind-bending experiences associated with psychedelics.
Similar to the series’ book on tarot, Plant Magick offers insight into the long legacies and enduring links between the creative and the divine. The title is currently available for pre-order from Taschen and Bookshop.
Share this story
In Roberto de la Torre’s Documentary Photos, Yearly Masking Rituals Celebrate the Change of the Seasons
In regions throughout Europe, ancient religions often welcomed solstices and equinoxes by crafting elaborate garments that evoked different points in the agricultural cycle. Bulky suits of fur and hide might reference the slow movements of winter’s dormancy, while the straw dresses associated with the Tafarrón festival ask for fertility in the coming year. More vibrant iterations with patterns and towering headdresses are known as boteiros, or the centuries-old garments associated with the entroido of the Viana do Bollo region in Spain.
Capturing what remains of these seasonal celebrations is what drives Galicia-based photographer Roberto de la Torre, whose ongoing documentarian series Microcosmos records those who participate in the yearly rituals. “There is little information about them, so I often travel through these regions and ask the people of the towns,” he tells Colossal. “It is also research work. Going to the sites to be able to photograph the masks also means going on a certain date. Many of these rituals are done only one day a year.”
Each suit is just one facet of a broader character with its own name, talismans, shamanic references, and specific purpose within the celebration. The garments interpret the physical conditions of the land, and in his images, de la Torre intends to dissolve the boundary between the subjects and their surroundings, instead exposing the inherent, and sacred, connection between the two. “In Microcosmos, I present a hierophantic landscape where the mythical beings that build the magical places are manifested,” he says, referring to his photos as “a visual game between the tangible and the intangible in a physical and natural setting, a heritage and cultural memory that has treasured its uniqueness over the centuries.”
De la Torre is hoping to compile his images in a book, and you can follow news about that release, along with more of his documentary work, on Instagram.
Share this story
Cincinnati Art Museum Discovers That a Rare 16th Century Mirror Reveals a Hidden Image When Illuminated
Prior to the ubiquity of the glass mirrors we use today, people often peered into polished bronze for a low-fi glimpse of their reflection. These objects often featured cast three-dimensional symbols or renderings on the side opposite the convex reflective surface, but another particularly artful subset also contained an added dimension of mystery.
While plumbing the archives at the Cincinnati Art Museum, curator Hou-mei Sung uncovered what appeared to be an ordinary patinaed mirror printed with the name of Amitābha Buddha. After closer inspection, though, she realized that the small bronze piece would reveal a hidden image of the spiritual figure enshrined in rays when illuminated.
Dubbed a “Magic Mirror,” the extremely rare work is part of a small collection of light-penetrating objects that date back to the Han dynasty (202 BCE to 220 CE)—only a few similar Buddhist pieces from China and Japan are thought to exist and are currently housed at the Shanghai Museum, Tokyo National Museum, and Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sung’s discovery is presumed to be the oldest uncovered, and although it’s still unclear exactly how ancient artisans created the pieces, it was likely a religious decoration hung in a temple or the home of a wealthy family.
If you’re in Cincinnati, you can see the mirror and its secret image starting July 23.
Share this story
Design History Photography
Architectural Shots Frame the Stately Modern Designs of Churches Across Europe
French photographer Thibaud Poirier continues his Sacred Spaces series by capturing the modern architecture of dozens of temples across Europe. Similar to earlier images, Poirier uses the same focal point of the front pulpit and pews in all of the photographs, allowing easy comparisons between the colors, motifs, and structural details of each location. “I selected these spaces for the use of original materials, modern for their time in sacred architecture, like steel, concrete, as well as large aluminum and glass panels,” he tells Colossal. Because travel has been limited due to COVID-19, Poirier has mostly visited 20th- and 21st-century churches in France, Germany, and the Netherlands for Sacred Spaces II, although he plans to expand his range in the coming months. Keep an eye out for those shots on Behance and Instagram.
Share this story
An Elaborate Kamidana Shrine Designed by Naohiko Shimoda Wraps an Inner Corner
Architect Naohiko Shimoda’s interpretation of a kamidana—a small altar or “god shelf” that’s part of a tradition to bring Shinto shrines into private spaces—strays from the simple ledges most often found in Japanese homes. Designed with an intricate foundation and slatted roof, the wooden structure lines an inner corner and is installed high on the wall following the custom. The precise and detailed construction is built on a 1:1 scale, allowing it to “be regarded as architecture with unique proportions and beauty.”
The size of many Japanese houses today limits the placement of the miniature shrines, Shimoda says, which spurred the original 2018 design that’s similar in style but wraps around an outer corner. “Unlike other architectures, the kamidana is usually represented only in the front half of the building. It makes people imagine ‘something behind’ that was not represented and (setting it up) in a corner make it even more effective,” he says.
To see more of Nagaski-born designer’s architectural and renovation projects, head to his site and Instagram. (via Spoon & Tamago)
Share this story
Editor's Picks: Science
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.