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Divine interventions

Sunday, May 26, 2013
The Rebirth of Kimpa Vita.

Brianna McCarthy’s second solo exhibition, Saints + Jumbies, opened on May 22 at Medulla Art Gallery, Woodbrook. This self-taught mixed media artist often depicts women in her work, addressing issues of beauty, stereotypes and empowerment especially in relation to the representation of black bodies. Here, McCarthy again puts a spotlight on the black female, presenting her as a divinity—as both a saint and a jumbie—with intercessory power.


The conjunction “and” in the title of her work compels us to make connections between Christianity’s saints and the spirits that fall outside of a Christian belief system—spirits which are popularly regarded in Caribbean contexts as jumbies. For McCarthy, the word jumbie does not refer to an evil spirit, but a deity that can intervene in human life in beneficial ways. Both the saint and the jumbie are objects of veneration and prayers and they can be called upon to attend to everyday concerns. 


McCarthy says, “I had been considering that saints and jumbies were at separate ends of a linear progression but I don’t believe that is so. To separate them with a gradient between suggests that they are dissimilar and in opposition when I feel as though they are really in the same intimate space—only required or invoked at different times.” The exhibition features an array of saints and jumbies that the artist has felt the urge to summon at one time or another in her personal experiences. Some deities are born of her own imagination while others, like the saint presented in her piece The Rebirth of Kimpa Vita, come from an actual nucleus of divinities. Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita was a Congolese woman who claimed to be possessed by the Catholic spirit of St Anthony. She led the Antonian movement, a religion that envisioned Catholicism in terms of black African history and geography. In 1706 she was killed for her beliefs, which were regarded as heresy by the church. 


“The Rebirth of Kimpa Vita is actually the second of the saints I made. She is a piece I am very attached to—a piece I feel most as a self-portrait, though not completely. She is a calmer, stronger, wiser version of myself, yet so other to me,” says McCarthy. With this new work, McCarthy constructs around her saints and jumbies a mythology she calls the maker/mender. It is the idea that we are always in a process of creating, restoring, renewing and healing ourselves, and the saints and jumbies are the powers we can draw upon for making and mending ourselves. “It is the idea that we are constantly constructing and deconstructing ourselves, pulling elements from nature, shamanism, religious iconography and other areas of humanity to construct who we are, have been, are becoming and would like to be. Through this sacred and selective composition we are able to choose our own power and our own elixirs, our own strengths.”


Brianna McCarthy’s Saints + Jumbies runs until June 13 at Medulla Art Gallery, 37 Fitt Street, Woodbrook. Info: 740-7597 or e-mail: [email protected]


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