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Photo courtesy Iwaria Inc.

Lolei Pavão is a self-taught acrylic Pop-Surrealist painter, mixed media artist, designer, sculptor, and photographer who has been initiated into the religion of Lukumi. Her art reflects her spiritual path. She was very generous to share about her creative path and to show some of the beautiful carvings, paintings, and mixed media, most of which are sacred items intended for ritual purposes. Before learning more about our artist, we will begin with some background in Lukumi, which is an offshoot of Yoruba.

The "Becoming" of African Diaspora Religions

Indigenous African religions are by nature plural, varied. As Africa is becoming increasingly Christian or Muslim, the old religions are often kept alive in other lands. The African Diaspora has spread the old practices across the world. With no central leader or rigid precepts, the religions have evolved, rooted in African prehensions, but expanding into new possibilities.

The nature and composition of the African diaspora have changed over time and what has emerged alongside traditional African faiths are hybrid religions that are rich in ritual and belief. Usually these oral traditions include belief in a supreme creator, belief in spirits, veneration of the dead, use of magic, and traditional medicine.

Santeria is a fusion of Catholic practices and African folk beliefs. It emerged in Cuba during the 17th century, and has been embedded in Cuban society ever since. [Source: The Harvard Gazette]

To be crowned begins at a ritual is known as the asiento (seating), or the coronación (coronation), and it is believed that it marks the point when the aché of the tutelary oricha which "rules their head" is literally placed inside the initiate's cranium.

aché: The spiritual energy, grace, power or blessings that can be possessed, given, and received in life through devotion to the Orishas.

vèvè or vevè: a religious symbol commonly used in different branches of Vodun throughout the African diaspora, such as Haitian Vodou.

Lucumí: Also spelled Lukumí. Refers to the Yoruba people who were taken to Cuba as slaves and their descendants. Santería is also known as the Lucumí religion.

Irunmoles: the manifestations of the power of nature represented in the Yoruba Pantheon.

Yoruba Pantheon: the Yorubas named, identified and deified the energies of nature and called them Orishas, coming from African history and what is currently known is a compendium or syncretism of various regional cults during the period of slavery and colonization arrived at Caribbean and America

Orisha are supernatural entities usually referred to as deities in the Yoruba religion of West Africa, though they are actually emanations or avatars of the supreme being Olodumare. Their number is usually given as 400 + 1 as a kind of shorthand for "without number" or innumerable.

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“In Africa every human has a spark of divine nature, and sin does not separate us from it. We are cousins of God. Every person has multiple souls, including the souls of ancestors that reincarnate through us. The purest soul is called an ori, and a person who cultivates their ori can attain divinity.”
—Israel Morrow

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Yemeya

Images courtesy Garden of Blood and Bone

Once known as "Santería,"  La Regla de Ocha-Ifá and La Regla de Lukumí came to the United States with Cuban immigrants. Of all the New World societies, Cuba received people who were enslaved from the greatest diversity of African origins, and in larger numbers. The size and diversity of this population has allowed a rich array of African-inspired religions to continue to flourish there, well beyond the end of the transatlantic slave trade

The deities of the Yoruba religion from present-day Nigeria, Togo and Benin are called Orishas in Yoruba, Oricha in Spanish. Yoruba people also speak of a supreme being, Olorun or Olodumare, whose power or life-energy, called ashé becomes manifest through both blood-related ancestors called Egun and the Orisha. In Cuba, as in Haiti, West African deities became paired with Roman Catholic saints in syncretistic relationships. In Cuba, the ruler of lightning, called Shangó in Yoruba and Changó in Spanish, is identified with St. Barbara. Ogún, the Orisha who is a blacksmith and is considered the surgeon of the Yoruba pantheon, is identified with St. George, Babalu Ayé is identified with St. Lazarus, while Our Lady of Regla is the patroness of a Havana municipality called Regla. [source: Havard Pluralism Project]

Artist Lolei Pavão

Please tell us about the Spiritual background of your art.
I am crowned in Lukumi,  but Isese and the Nigerian root Ifa have always been my true path. My art is a direct reflection of orisha and the diverse cultures who pay homage to them. I honor Irunmole and orisha by creating their physical representaion,  as I am inspired by them to do so.
What is your inspiration? 
I am inspired by the world around me,  far removed from the mainstream agendas and trappings of distraction. Nature is truly amazing,  and offers endless ideas and inspiration. You need only look and see.
Would you describe your creations to be collaborative with a spiritual element?
Each piece I create is directly influenced and inspired by orisha,  Santa Muerte etc. As I am a physical representation of my crown,  it is an honor to create their physical representation for others.
What is your favorite piece? 
I created a replica reliquary Kissi ancestor bundle-style fetiche',  which was listed and did not sell before expiring. I chose not to relist, and it has a permanent home among my orisha.
Is there anything else you would like to say about your art?
Creating each work of art is a labor of love. The hours put into creating each piece far exceeds what they list for. Providing affordable,  authentic quality art has always been the method to my madness,  as well as preserving cultural traditions and engaging and enriching people's lives through art, by igniting the imagination, encouraging thought and prompting discourse.
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Paintings of Orishas

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Yoruba Pantheon

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Eshu Elegbara Fetish

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Hoodoo, Voodoo Poppet Fetish

Images courtesy Garden of Blood and Bone

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

A natural born artist, self-taught acrylic Pop-Surrealist painter, mixed media artist, designer,  sculptor,  photographer,  and professional painter based out of New Jersey. My only formal art training taking place on a Seattle city transit bus in the early hours at the age of 7,  when by chance world renowned Sci-Fi Fantasy artist Michael Whelan happened to also be riding. Noticing my art sketch book,  he offered to demonstrate some shading techniques to pass the time. A chance meeting that influenced my early art style and content for several years.

Art has always been an intrigal part of my life. I see art in everything. My many travels,  faces and places have given me inspiration over the years. And for many years,  I put down my paint brush,  only to pick it back up again in 2010. At the suggestion of a good friend,  I created a series of paintings for an Austin coffee house showing,  selling all but one,  which led to a second showing. The second just as successful,  also yielded a pricey 4- painting commission for Vida Tex-Mex's Dallas location, and later a collaboration with California musician Jeannette Kantzalis on a graphic novel "Josephine the Outlaw King",  and a recording label painting for her studio. I eventually had to abandon the work on the graphic novel,  but I've never looked back. From band CD and t-shirt concept art, to the addition of website and etsy as outlets that continue to showcase my inspirations. My art has evolved into incorporating my path,  and honoring and drawing inspiration from orisha and the other forces I work with,  while finding harmony and balance, as much in my life  as my creative process. Currently drawing inspiration from the serene WY plains.
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Lolei Pavão

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Yemanjá (Yoruba: Yemọja; there are many different transliterations in other languages) is a major water spirit from the Yoruba religion. She is the mother of all Orishas.

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Ibeji/Ibeyi

Ibeji (known as Ibejí, Ibeyí, or Jimaguas in Latin America) is the name of an Orisha representing a pair of twins in the Yoruba religion of the Yoruba people (originating from Yorubaland, an area in and around present-day Nigeria).

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Above: One of a Kind Sculpture

Left: Skull with Chicken foot Talisman Fetish

Images courtesy Garden of Blood and Bone

“Santería was traditionally an unacknowledged and underappreciated aspect of what it meant to be Cuban. Yet the syncretism between the Yoruban religion that the slaves brought to the island and the Catholicism of their masters is, in my opinion, the underpinning of Cuban culture. Every artistic realm—music, theater, literature, etc.—owes a huge debt to santería and the slaves who practiced it and passed it on, largely secretively, for generations.”
—Cristina García

Art by Lolei Pavão in the private collection of Kathleen Reeves

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Baron Samedi Style Voodoo Staff Baron Samedi is one of the loa of Haitian Vodou. He is a loa of the dead, along with Baron's numerous other incarnations Baron Cimetière, Baron La Croix and Baron Criminel.

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Staff detail with poppet and chicken foot fetish

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Reliquary African FÉTICHE Las Reglas de Congo and Voodoo poppet

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Above: Reliquary African FÉTICHE Las Reglas de Congo

Below: Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte, Bone vevè necklace.

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  • Kathleen Reeves is a member of the Board of Directors at the Cobb Institute, and leads the Institute’s group for Spiritual Integration and the Arts. She also serves on the communications team and oversees the Institute's social media messaging.