The all-important Yoruba deity Ogún (Ogum in Brazil), god of war and of ironworking, patron of blacksmiths and of all who use metal in their occupations, continues to rule in the spirit world of the African Diaspora throughout Brazil and the Americas. He embodies the transformative power and sacred role of iron in West African cultures and as such has endowed Afro-Brazilian ritual blacksmiths (ferramenteiros) with a magical gift.
While many Brazilian blacksmith artists are not known outside their immediate neighborhoods, they perform a vital function in Afro-Brazilian communities in that they turn scrap iron into sacred art pieces, endowing them in the process with divine powers and metaphorical contents which originated in the African spirit world of ancestors. An exception is the now internationally known ferramenteiro José Adario dos Santos. (See the next portfolio for works by José Adario dos Santos.)
The central figure in this Afro-Brazilian devotional art form is the multi-faceted Yoruba god Eshu-Elegba, in Brazil known as Exu, where he has both male and female avatars. His or her accessories symbolize the crossroads of life, and the gates to human destiny. In Brazil, he is always depicted as very phallic, or she, with explicit female sex organs. This is a sexually ambivalent and morally ambiguous deity.
He/she is the trickster, messenger god, the gatekeeper, and the guardian of crossroads – the symbolic meeting place of the worlds of the living and the dead. He (or she) can open doors or bar access, show the way or obscure the path. During ceremonies it is to metal sculptures of Exu that worshippers first direct their prayers and their offerings, in order to access the wider pantheon. At the moment of worship the metal object reaffirms the relationship between the human and the sacred and itself becomes an altar.
The sacred art of ferramenteiros lends shape not only to the all-important Exu but also to other deities in the Afro-Brazilian pantheon, along with their symbolic and sacred implements, also sculpted from iron and other metals (ferramenta).
Other Afro Brazilian Artists in our collection include: Chico Tabibuia, and Raimundo Borges Falcão.
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