Damien B. Art Center
Fire has been part of religious thinking since the dawn of mankind. Its esoteric powers and destructive force have both frightened and comforted, depending on the time and place. Mythological systems around the world have incorporated it into stories thousands of years old. In the latest exhibit of sculpture by Cuban-born artist Ena Marrero, not only does her volatile concoction of art threaten to engulf us in flames, but she makes us participants in several ancient fire myths.
The Indian practice of Sati (or Suttee) is the subject of one piece, Charcoal Yesterday’s Heat (2004). Sati is the practice whereby a widow throws herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre, and it still continues today despite being outlawed by the British in 1829. Many believe its origins lie within the myth of the goddess Sati herself, whose absent husband Shiva was gravely insulted by her father. In a fiery rage, she self-immolated and rejoined her husband as his new consort, just as Marrero invites us to do. On a cold metal bed frame that rests high upon gray concrete, a frightening assemblage of newspaper stacks lie bound together with bright orange electrical tape. Charcoal briquettes lay in cut incisions atop each stack, as if an electrical fire were imminent.
At the head of the bed, in place of pillows, are two square bundles of tall red-tipped matchsticks that are set to ignite the ritual act. There is also an undeniable presence of the dead hovering about Marrero’s work. Disembodied voices seem almost to chant and sing as they dance about Charcoal Energy Curve (2004). The charred logs that spiral toward the blazing red center of matchsticks could very well be the preparations for a Native American fire ritual. It has the meditative effect and the appearance of something ancient and sacred, like a sort of crude and combustible portal into another world.
Hindu spirits are evoked in another piece, Charcoal Lotus Heart (2004), in which an unlit bonfire of logs surrounds dried lotus roots and a mandala of black sand that suggests gunpowder. Additional matchsticks and briquettes speak of the fire god Agni, whose name is the origin of the English word “ignite.” According to the Rig Veda (the earliest Hindu scriptures) Agni was born from a lotus flower and began life as a water deity. He was later transformed after the remote and mountain-dwelling storm god, Rudra, hit him with a thunderbolt.
Clearly, Marrero is drawing from the same wellspring as British sculptor David Nash, whose own work with charred wood speaks of a deep spiritualism. She handles her own materials with an intuitive understanding of shamanism, often in a way that raises the mysterious questions: Who made this?, and, Why? Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we are drawn into an unconscious mystical participation with the elemental forces that lie at the root of our very being.