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  • Female Exu in chain skirt, 1990's
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  • Male Exu sculptures, 1990's
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  • Ferramenta de Ogum, 1990's
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    Exu, the Yoruba god Elegba, represents, among other things, the messenger between humans and the divine pantheon and also the ruler of crossroads and gateways, thereby controlling human destiny. This stunning sculpture symbolically depicts forks in the road of life and a key to open the gate to a determined fate or destiny.
  • Female Exu in metal skirt, 1990's
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  • Male Exu, 1990's
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  • Exu Caveira 1, 1990's
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AfroBrazilian Sacred Metal: José Adario dos Santos


José Adario dos Santos ("Ze Diabo") 

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 given Afro-Brazilian ritual blacksmiths (ferramenteiros) a magical gift.

While most Brazilian blacksmith artists are not known outside their immediate community, some have become recognized as artists in their own right. The most prominent ferramenteiro in Brazil is José Adario dos Santos from Cachoeira, a major center of Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion based on Yoruba practices, near Salvador, Bahia. Born in 1947 as the son of a Candomblé priestess ("mãe-de-santo"), he has turned scrap iron into sacred art pieces since the 1960’s, endowing them in the process with divine powers and metaphorical contents which originated in the African spirit world of ancestors. His sculptures are included in major museum collections in Brazil.

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, the gates to human destiny, and the realm of the dead. 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 iron art of José Adario dos Santos 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). 

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