Mérida-born artist Rafiki Sánchez visited Santa María la Ribera in September 2017. The purpose was to find a group of neighbors to develop a participative project. For his sculptural work, Sánchez has explored the use of different materials, mainly textiles and objects found in nature like wood, roots, seeds, or made of natural elements, such as clay bowls. He is especially interested in making costumes and masks, which he then uses in actions with the help of different people.
Interested in thanatology and its emotional aspects, Rafiki designed a four-session program about various topics related to death. He invited experts on clinical and spiritual aspects such as closure, rituals, and mourning. Thus, a group of neighbors discussed these topics, and several met later to continue a creative dialogue with the artist. The purpose was to define a joint project that might help filter their ideas about this common interest.
The production of Rafiki’s piece begins. It is a conic structure covered by a mixture of ashes and water that contains a beautiful veil as symbol of a relic. The gold-embroidered veil shows epitaphs written by some members of the group. Rafiki Sánchez considers the large cone as a hiding and resting place for the body, thus subverting the burial tradition of Judeo-Christian religions.
Closure of the Project
As the production of Vestigios (Vestiges) ends, Rafiki Sánchez also ends the co-participative process with nine neighbors from the barrio. Once the veil is placed in the refuge-structure, the artist invites the group to individually hide inside the cone to generate a personal and intimate ritual. Each participant takes the needed time to understand the absence of the other, based on their own absence, and thus with this small gesture calm the pain caused by a physical or emotional absence. Then the artist removes the veil and burns the structure from which the ashes are recovered.