The Amazing Carybé Panels

History Organizers Forum

    Salvador    The Organizers’ Forum delegation had learned a lot in our meetings with informal workers unions and cooperatives as well as our hike through the in-city forest, but we wanted to see a side of Salvador away from the breaking waves of the ocean, and the ships in the bay under the care of the mindful lighthouse, so we headed to the historic center.  The views were breathtaking of course.  The cathedral and basilica towered over the square, as tourists streamed along the cobbled streets.  We walked in the surrounding neighborhood away from the crowds.  A unique elevator took us to the “lower” city, where we stumbled onto an amazing, bustling cafeteria in the midst of the leather, textile, and other small industrial operations of the real city.  We were warned constantly to be careful, to hide our phones, and advised to leave immediately, but our experience didn’t match the reputation that the citizens were so careful to protect.

The highlight for me and maybe others was a visit to the Universidade Federal da Bahia Museu Afro-Brasileiro located on the central plaza.  The museum wasn’t free at $1 to $2 bucks, but its few rooms were well posited with artifacts, carvings, and sculptures that spoke to the richness of the culture.  Finishing the main display rooms, there was a door that kept blowing shut in the breeze and museum executives worked to try to keep in open.  I slipped in and suddenly was surrounded by one of the most amazing works imaginable.  The combined beauty and power of the work was almost overwhelming.  My eyes flitted across the sides of the room and with every turn more detail was revealed.  I was looking at the 27 panels representing the Candomblé orixás of Bahia by the Argentinian-Brazilian artist, sculptor, woodcarver, and journalist Carybé, whose formal name was Hector Julio Paride Bernabo.

The panels were beautifully carved on what seemed to be glistening mahogany.  They seemed more than life-sized, and each was joined to the next along the walls.  They represented religious figures that were part of the music and dance of the what I later learned was the “Candomblé, previously known as batuque, an African diasporic religion with music and dance, that developed in Brazil during the 19th century. It arose through a process of syncretism between several of the traditional religions of West Africa, especially those of the Yoruba, Bantu, and Gbe.”  Words desert me, but this was a magical and amazing piece.

The nickname Carybé came to the artist as a ten-year-old in the scouts and means piranha. He must have liked it.  Looking him up in Wikipedia, he seems to have been a mega-player in multiple fields, and dominant in Latin America, even if unknown to me until now.  He had produced the panels in 1968, was born in 1911, and died in 1997.  He did murals for museums and New York and Miami airports.  The rebuilding of JFK’s American terminal, the old Idlewild, saved one of his murals, which I now remembered reading about without realizing the magnitude of the artist.  He did the woodcuts on Gabriel Marquez classic One Hundred Years of Solitude, and other books.  He was huge!

In my book, Picasso, Rodin, and that gang from the Western canon need to step aside and let Carybé stand next to them, if not in front.  Just saying!