When fashion photographers Elliot and Erick Jiménez’s mother left them at age 12, they found stability and hope through an Afro-Cuban faith called Lucumí, a form of Santería. The 32-year-olds hope to shed light on the often stigmatized practice with their very first solo exhibition at Spinello Projects.
“Entre Dos Mundos” – opened April 16 and running through June 30 – guides you through the twin brothers’ view of the religious blend of Roman Catholicism and the culture of the Yoruba, one of the largest Nigerian ethnic groups in the West -Africa.
“When the Spanish colonized Cuba, they enslaved the Yoruban people and forced them to convert from their original Isese faith to Catholicism,” Erick explains. New times† “To make sure they could continue their practice, they hid their gods, the gods based on Catholic saints with similar ideals, which is kind of what the show visualizes.”
The series ventures beyond the twins’ 14-year career in fashion photography. (They have worked for) Fashion† To temptHermés and Highsnobiety, to name a few.) Although their careers began in New York City, Miami residents brought “Entre Dos Mundos” home with them.
Each editorial-style photo honors Lucumí Saints through elegant, grandiose garments worn by ambiguous generations of Caribbean, Latin American and African models, including one person with a surprisingly close connection to Yoruba.
“It was really interesting working with one of these guys because he’s essentially from Nigeria, where the Yoruban people came from, but he had no idea or understanding of their religion,” explains Elliot. “You think of the whole image, of course, but especially the people we photograph, for spiritual reasons.”
However, this knowledge gap between Yoruba natives and Lucumí beliefs is not uncommon. Elliot highlights the impact colonization had on those who now live in America.
“Here in Miami, there’s such a dense population of Cubans, so most people have some sense of this religion, even if they’re not directly associated with it,” Elliot says. “I know people come in with so many assumptions or ideas about religion already.”
At first glance, the photos catch the eye with their bold, color-themed auras, based on the energies of ordinary Yoruban orishas, or spiritual gods of the natural world.
“Each saint is associated with a color. Like mine is Oshun, who is represented by yellow, so you could give them offerings like yellow flowers,” Elliot says. “It is believed that every orisha chooses someone when you are born to be some sort of your guardian throughout life.”
But as you enter each room, you’ll notice dark, eerie tones in the photos, personifying the mystery behind Lucumí.
“They have temperaments, personalities, flaws,” Erick says. “If you know the orisha and you understand who they were when they were human, they have certain qualities that are representative of who you are.”
Erick was inspired by his own orisha, which is often represented by abundance and water – both flowing and constant.
“People are already coming in with so many assumptions or ideas about the religion.”
“For my orisha, Yemaya, you can go to the ocean to pray or hug her,” explains Erick. “Some others are connected to palm trees so you can meditate under the trees.”
These rituals of meditation and prayer are often practiced privately, as the Spanish conquistadors initially banned them. But Elliot and Erick hope their show can allay suspicion and mistrust of the religion, which has surrounded it with a negative stigma.
“The Spaniards thought it was comical that Yorubans worshiped the saints so much more passionately than they did to God, as in Catholicism,” Elliot says. “They think something bad is going to happen to you, like they’re going to do voodoo or black magic to you, but I think we’re trying to show that Lucumí can really be something positive.”
In third grade, the brothers knew their involvement in both fashion and Santería would set them apart, but not always in a good way.
While most students were perfecting their multiplication tables, Erick and Elliot were able to read their friend’s entire astrology charts based on the exact time and coordinates of their birth — a skill that could take even a mathematician for years.
“We went to third grade with an astrology book like crazy, and people were like, ‘What are these people doing?’ Like we used to do the math to find people’s rising signs and kind of have a feel for who they are. It’s really based on the time, latitude and longitude of where and when you were born,” says Elliot.” That determines where the planets were aligned or positioned, and then it spreads across the map.”
Growing up, their mother encouraged similar astrological rituals. Yet they attribute much of their spiritual upbringing to their Afro-Cuban GrandmaNorma Salgado, now 83, who practiced Lucumí and cared for the twins when their mother left.
“We didn’t have the easiest childhood, so when you’re in a situation like that, you turn to faith to have something to believe in,” says Elliot. “Our mother considered herself an atheist, but we would have to go out on certain full moons to gather energy and even go outside when certain comets fly by.”
This powerful energy shines brightly, literally, through the shining eyes of each model. Using a manual photographic technique inspired by Cuban artist Belki Ayón, Elliot and Erick shot multiple images and layered them to create deep contrasts in lighting.
One of the 14 pieces of the exhibition, entitled Twin (meaning “divine twins” in Yoruba), embrace this technique as the brothers wear matching bold black bodysuits with dainty white collar guards. This gender-ambiguous attire highlights a spectrum of energies and strengths unique to Lucumí saints throughout the show.
“Stories and practices will vary depending on the person who practices it,” says Erick. “So the techniques and emotion that have gone into this is our visual interpretation of the religion, but of course we invite everyone to come and understand it in their own way and maybe even want to learn more.”
“Between two worlds.” On display through Thursday, June 30 at Spinello Projects, 2930 NW Seventh Ave., Miami; spinelloprojects.com. Admission is free.