Sacred Art is a conversation between the soul of an artist and the divine. From my point of view, many of the things I create for the Orisha, or in this case for Egún, are part of a larger conversation involving the physical, spiritual, and mental planes. It is about listening to various sources, observation, and inspiration. For me, when it comes to religious art, there is no ars gratia artis—or art for art's sake. All creations have a genesis; sometimes, it starts with a dream; other times, it is a voice that whispers softly and plants ideas or a cascade of images that flood my mind’s eye without warning. It is hard to explain how these sources become a single focal point, it just happens, and the urge to create takes over.
This is what happened to me nearly 15 years ago as I was dressing my Pagugu Egún, refreshing it with new ribbons as the prior ones were tattered. I had the Egún Stick in my hands, and a series of images from Egungún mascaraed dancers flooded my mind’s eye, overlapping those visions with the stick I held. One and the same, they became, the dancer and the stick that taps on the floor to wake up Egún. The dancer with its frantic steps and twirling multicolor layers of fabric and a stick dancing by itself, calling on the forces of our dead—Egún.
What if I was to create a simple cover, something to remind me of the Egún Dancers? Why not? It was not a matter of breaking with tradition or inventing anything. It was a matter of textile art needing to be expressed. I drove to the fabric store and looked for nine pieces of fabric and whatever else inspired me. My first cover had a bit of Day of the Dead fabric, some burlap, colorful strips of fabric, beads, and bells. I felt at peace once I finished my simple creation and placed it over my Pagugu Egún.
My next piece was for my adoptive godfather Yeguedé, a priest of Oyá who greatly appreciates all things Egún related. To my knowledge, that cover still decorates his Egún stick, but I don’t have a photo of it—time surely has taken its toll on it as some of the shells have fallen through the years. A decade came and went before I created my third piece, this time for my husband, Loma Batalla, who admired my cover and wanted to add beauty to his Pagugu Egún.
Nearly another decade went by for creation to strike again. Last week, as I was helping my kids organize the Egún shrine for Ayótomiwá’s 10th Orisha Anniversary, I realized that neither my youngest son nor his godfather Oggún Addá Araí had any of my covers to “dress” their sticks. Mama to the rescue! I went again on a sacred pilgrimage to the closest fabric store, and together with my husband, we selected the fabrics to be used for a surprise gift to the guys.
Do you need to dress your Pagugu Egín beyond the ribbons and bells that traditionally decorate it? Not really. I have not seen any other pieces like the ones I make for Egún dressing up other Pagugu Egúns in the shrines I have visited. As no two covers are alike, these unique creations are one-of-a-kind, and I want to keep it that way; after all, no two Pagugu Egún are the same—to me, uniqueness and originality matter. A cover for the Egún stick is a matter of taste and art; religious art needs no justification—it just is. In my case, it is a way to share the ashé that flows through my hands, an expression of love to Egún, and for those for whom I make the covers. There are many things we do and use to make our orishas look snazzy, so why not do the same for Egún?
Oní Yemayá Achabá