Hail, Star of the Sea
Nurturing Mother of God
And Ever Virgin
Happy Gate Of Heaven”
– Ave Stella Maris, Liturgical Hymn (11th Century)
Cuba and Latin America’s prevalent religious faith is Catholicism and the Church remains the Hispanic world’s central religious structure, providing the figures of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and the Saints of the Church, as the defining role models for Catholics. These archetypes are pervasive in the message that the Church conveys to its members, who live and die in contemplation of the exemplars, who paved the way to Heaven for the faithful. As Geandy and Imara explored the nature of existence in lockdown and the cultural streams that formed their subconscious perception of connections between spiritual life and the material world, they drew from the rich treasury of imagery and figuration that comprises the Church’s dogma and theology.
On Day 9 (Adán y Eva), Adam and Eve (Genesis 2: 4-2:24), the founders of humanity in the world, appeared in the form of Geandy and Imara. Banned from Eden, for their disobedience, Adam and Eve forever regretted their eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is the moment of temptation chosen for enactment in “Quarantine.” Perched on a bed, strewn with fashion magazines, Imara suggestively holds an apple from which a large bite has been taken. Geandy (Adam), seen from the back, holds a knife Imara (Eve) cannot see. Will he help her cut the diminishing apple for his share or will he stab her, thereby preventing his expulsion by refusing to transgress the commandment God gave him not to eat the fruit? Is the implicit, potential murder, suggested by the hidden knife, better than disobedience? And how does the disobedience of Adam and Eve, with its tragic consequences, relate to the possible deadly consequences of disobeying the “commandments” of lockdown? The staging of the moment leaves the audience free to complete the story their way.
On Day 10 (La Anunciación), the cure for the sin of Adam and Eve materialized, as Imara became the Virgin Mary, accepting the hammer-blow of the announcement that she had been chosen to bear the Savior of the World, but, in exchange, she would have to sacrifice her only begotten Son. The Virgin’s sacrifice enabled the undoing, through Jesus Christ, of the sin of Adam and salvation was the result, as the Church teaches. The Gospel of Luke 1: 26-38 best recorded the narrative history of this moment and the combination of joy and sorrow that was the Virgin’s lot, when the Archangel Gabriel gave her the news.
On Day 19 (The Incredulity of St. Thomas), Geandy and Imara perform the moment wherein Thomas doubted in the veracity of the miracle of Christ’s Resurrection (Gospel of John 20: 24-29). Thomas’s conversion to the realization that he witnesses a miracle arrived, when Christ invited him to probe his wound with his finger. Gender-bending Imara as a feminized Christ and Geandy as Thomas presents a moment of communication that brings Imara’s “I told you so” expression in alignment with Geandy’s realization that indeed the dead body of Jesus has returned to life transformed.
Silhouettes on walls function as commentary on the subject being portrayed on Day 22 (Quarantine: Magdalen), where the shadows on the wall, behind Imara’s St. Mary Magdalene, tell the story of the Crucifixion, the reason for the Magdalen’s grief. The Magdalen is the sinner Christ saved, who after he became a preacher, carrying his message of salvation to others, who could also be saved by his sacrifice. The Magdalen’s story is told in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as one of Christ’s faithful disciples. In Geandy and Imara’s rendition of her spiritual and emotional grief at the time of Christ’s death, her past and her future connect with the exemplar that the Magdalen embodies for all Catholics.
“Do not touch me,” said Christ to Mary Magdalen, according to the Gospel of John 20:17 and on Day 25 (Noli Me Tangere), Imara became the Magdalen, framed in a window, looking at the feet of Geandy’s crucified Christ, where, separated by the glass pane, she is unable to touch Christ.
In the process of the Passion (Passion/Suffering) of Christ, St. Veronica made a brief appearance, recorded on Day 23 (Quarantine: La Verónica), as described, in Eusebius’s Historia ecclesiastica (312-324) and perhaps in the Gospel of Matthew 9:20. There, Veronica is the woman Christ healed of an issue of blood and who was, possibly, the wife of the tax collector, Zaccheus (Gospel of Luke 19:1-10). Veronica, notably, captured the face of Christ on a veil that she used to wipe his face from blood and sweat, as Christ struggled up the hill of Calvary, carrying the Cross. This portrait of Christ, The Sudarium, became one of the great relics of the Church and, according to tradition, it is now in Oviedo Cathedral and has been since the 6th Century. In lockdown, Imara’s Veronica creates the Sudarium with her phone camera, as she snaps the face of Geandy’s dead Christ, looking a bit like a forensic detective examining a body.
On Day 21 (Virgin) materialized in Imara’s living room, standing on a footstool, with a veil and crown that clothed her in the blue mantle, associated with the Virgin Mary as the “Star of the Sea.” Stella Maris, the traditional hymn, which identified the Virgin with the guiding star that leads all sailors to safety, had been sung to honor her since the Middle Ages. This title for the Virgin was based on a misnomer created when St. Jerome (347-420 A.D.) mistranslated the Onomasticon of Eusebius of Caesarea (260-399 A.D.). Under her blue robe, Imara, the Quarantine: Virgin, wears a white slip, indicative of her virginity and her purity and in so doing, Imara presents a figure that links Catholicism with the African-based religion of Santería.
In Cuba’s syncretic practice of Santería, the Virgin Mary, in her role as the Stella Maris (Star of the Sea), became the Orisha Ochún, whose power over the waters, love, fate, fertility and purity makes her one of the most powerful of the Santería deities. The Orishas were brought to the Americas by the slaves, who hid their continuing practice of their African religion within the figures of the Saints of the Catholic Church. As such, Quarantine: Virgin, is Mary and Ochún becoming the essence of the syncretism that marks Cuba’s blending of the European and the African.
On Day 29 (Ochún), the Orisha, manifested in her full regalia, wearing her ritual color of yellow, holding a fan, with a crown of sunflowers. Yellow/Gold is Ochún’s color. Imara’s Ochún, appears with a bell, which floats suspended above her raised left hand. The bell is the musical instrument that is used during rituals intended to summon Ochún, whose attention must be claimed above the rushing sound of the waters that are her home. The fan is the wind, with which she moves the waters and the sunflower a sign of her fertility and creative powers. Ochún gives freely but she also takes away, as she can be vindictive and jealous. Hence, to keep her favors, she must be pleased so that she bestows her best on those who petition her assistance. In Cuba, Ochún is also embodied as La Virgén de la Caridad (the Virgin of Charity), patroness of the island and its waters, as the Virgin and Ochún protect the peoples of their island home.
On Day 14 (The Lonely Fortune Teller), a more universal practice, beyond religious confines, emerged in Imara’s apartment, when she became a fortune teller. Prophecy has its practitioners throughout human history because human beings want to know their future. For those in lockdown, the fate of humanity trapped by pandemic is the most pressing question. Will there be a vaccine? Medicines? A cure? As Imara gazes out from her table of fortune, holding the cards that decide fate, on her night table there sits a doll and a bell next to a vase of flowers. She is ready to foretell the future of those who dare to ask her questions.