Afro-Cuban American artist Harmonia Rosales creates rich and visceral paintings that recast European Renaissance paintings with characters of the Afro-Cuban Lucumí religion and Black subjects. In her first solo traveling exhibition, “Harmonia Rosales: Master Narrative” is currently on view at the Memphis Brooks Museum through June 25th. In August, it will head to Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta, GA.
Rosales became enamored with the Renaissance masters in her youth, fascinated by how they blended tales from Greco-Roman mythology and Christianity. However, she only became aware of what was missing from these exquisite paintings after the birth of her daughter.
“When I had my daughter, it was like I was reborn almost, with these really innocent eyes,” she said in an interview with Memphis Flyer. “And when I took her to see these beautiful paintings that I fell in love with, she didn’t fall in love with them. … She was like, ‘They don’t look like me.’ It just hit me that I didn’t want her to feel like her hair wasn’t beautiful, her skin wasn’t beautiful.”
To bring representation to the canvas, Rosales garnered inspiration from her ancestors’ Lucumí religion. “These gods [of Greek and Roman mythology] are very similar to the orishas I grew up with all my life, but took for granted because I grew up with them,” she said. Rosales’ intention was to make her paintings accessible to the masses while also incorporating her cultural roots and people from the African diaspora. “To see us in there, our ancestors, our history in a format where it’s just as time-consuming, looks just like the Renaissance paintings — the priceless paintings, the most beautiful paintings of the world, can’t touch ’em, can’t buy ’em — I wanted to do that in order to empower us and see our history in the same light,” she said. “Inclusion, it’s all about inclusion. Seeing this is what I want for my children.”
Featuring 20 recent magnificent paintings and a large-scale sculptural installation, in “Harmonia Rosales: Master Narrative,” the Los Angeles-based artist confronts the concept of the master narrative “in a way that collapses the passing of millennia and bridges the vastest of oceans,” reads the exhibition’s description. “For Rosales, storytelling is a journey of personal discovery and a reclamation of one’s cultural identity as a means of survival. She asks us to consider the universality of creation, tragedy, resilience, and transcendence through a Black diasporic lens.”
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Learn more about “Harmonia Rosales: Master Narrative” by visiting brooksmuseum.org.
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