Altars represent living traditions that illustrate rich cultural histories, memories, and practices. Whether secular or religious, home altars have long served people of African descent in Panama as vehicles for making contact with ancestors and conveying community values to rising generations. Aesthetically, home altars also evidence symbolic and artistic vocabularies of ancestor veneration present within Afro-Panamanian communities. Afro-Panamanian Altars + Shrines is thus an exposition of vernacular practices of remembering and community building
through altarmaking. In Panama, as in the United States, however, there is no singular “black community” bound by cultural or experiential sameness. Rather, the experience and cultural expression of Afro- Panamanianness (Afro-Panameñidad) is varied, influenced as much by differences of geography, history and local custom, as by skin color, gender, and class.
It is worth noting that the terms black and Afro-Panamanian are complex and fraught – pregnant with tension, ambiguity, and dissonance – reflecting unfinished debates about what it means to be simultaneously Panamanian and a person of African descent. Insinuated in the installations of this exhibit are some of these ambiguities about the nature of Afro-Panamanian identity and communal life.
Afro-Panamanian Altars + Shrines
Altars must be fed.
Altars must be awakened.
Altars wax and wane in potency.
Altars tell stories.
Altars reveal the state of being of individuals an communities.
Altars are places where the living and the
dead, the human and the divine, meet.
Altars are places where healing happens.
-- Karen McCarthy Brown, “Altars Happen” (1996)
Popular Religion and Catholic Traditions in
Panama & Latin America
Enrique Dussel (1981) A History of the Church in Latin America: Colonialism to Liberation.
Arturo Lindsay (2001) “The Allure of the Naza,” in The Aesthetics of Enchantment in the Fine Arts.
[In Spanish] Francisco Delgado Botello (2006) “Rituales Fúnebres Cristianos: Un Estudio Comparativo,” in Revista Cultural Lotería 466-467.
[In Spanish] Nicolas Coronel Viteri (2002) “El Cristo Negro: Religiosidad Popular Afrolatinoamericana?” in Revista Cultural Lotería de Panama 442