Photos of secluded beaches, colorful fishing boats and turquoise waves hang on the walls of Second Street Gallery, which has been temporarily overrun with harbor themes: a white ship-shaped structure from which dozens of folded origami boats dangle and twirl, a wash of sand and seashells across the gallery floor, a navy blue wall bearing chalk outlines of tall ships and two flat screen TVs on which foaming waves crash repeatedly onshore.
The exhibit, “Portraits of Yemaya” by Atlanta-based artist and scholar Dr. Arturo Lindsay, first appears to be an ethnographic travel diary, cataloging the sun-worn face of a fisherman as he tosses a glittering net over the sea, arranging the small ebony statue of a woman nursing a child. But for Lindsay, who has spent the last three-and-a-half years researching the spiritual and aesthetic retentions and reinvention of the African Diaspora in contemporary American culture, the show paints an image of God.
A native of the Panamanian port city Colon, Lindsay is a self-described believer in the Ifá spiritual traditions of the Yoruba, a West African ethnic group largely enslaved and brought to the Americas during the transatlantic slave trade. In his artist statement Lindsay wrote that “Yemaya is the Yoruba Orisha (maternal Deity) whose domain is the sea. Her colors are blue and white and her temperament is gentle and loving until provoked.”
Many of these images come from field research in port cities throughout the Americas, Africa and the Middle East, including Portobelo, a 16th century Spanish colonial village on the Caribbean coast of the Republic of Panama, where Lindsay is building a year-round residency for international artists and environmentalists.
Lindsay’s projects often include workshops with children from underserved communities. His wood-and-origami sculptural piece, titled “The Dream Machine,” was created in collaboration with approximately 20 children between the ages of 7 and 11 in Cairo, Egypt, in 2012.
“When I met the kids [in Cairo], one of the questions I started asking was ‘what is the Egypt you would like to live in?’” Lindsay said. “This is right after the revolution, when energy was high and people had dreams, and I think these were orphans or children in one parent homes. They started to call out things. Things like ‘clean streets,’ ‘no more bullying’ and ‘everybody getting along together.’ There was such an outpouring—you could not hold these kids back.”
He told them they folded their dreams into every paper boat and promised to showcase their work in future exhibits. Their ideals no doubt resonated with his own experience as a junior in high school, when “an anti-poverty program office of economic opportunity created a Brooklyn theater for kids in Brooklyn [where Lindsay migrated with his family at age 12]. You had to audition for it, but it got us off the street and into the discipline of art.”
While studying theater at Central Connecticut State University, he began to paint as well. After hanging his work at the student center, a group of visiting student directors took interest and he began receiving exhibition requests. Soon the self-taught artist was accepted to University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
While Lindsay seeks to capture divinity in his work, he continues to use art as a vehicle for bringing about positive social change. On January 16, he will lead kids from Charlottesville’s Boys & Girls Club in a workshop to fold origami boats and arrange them in a circle in front of “The Dream Machine.” “It will become ‘The Circle of Hope,’” he said. “My handler [in Egypt] is going to appear via Skype. The children will hear someone in Egypt, their minds will be transported to Cairo, and the kids in Cairo will know I kept their promise.”
Arturo Lindsay appears at Second Street Gallery on January 16 at 5:30pm for a discussion with curator Tosha Grantham.