Erik Olivera. Featured Artist, Oct/Nov 2014

Oshun, taken by me in the Gallery 13
Oshun, taken by me in the Gallery 13

“Orishas” an exhibition of artwork by visiting Cuba Artist, Erik Olivera, is currently on display in a small gallery in North London off the beat and track, where you would least expect it, where Newington Green meets the beginning of  Green Lane’s long journey.
13The Gallery  is an interesting project; run by extra-ordinary photographer Alejandro Gortazar. it is not only a gallery, it runs classes, makes bespoke picture frames and hosts Cuban Cinema nights.  Here’s hoping that this Blog entry will draw some attention to this small North London Oasis.

On Wednesday I caught up with Erik Olivera to ask him a few questions about the exhibition.

Erik Olivera is a Cuban Artist who has art running in his veins. His mother was an artist and he learnt with her, accompanying her as she did her work and eventually studying art at Cuba’s National Arts Academy of Bellas Artes ” San Alejandro“. Erik’s Art Work has taken him all over the world, and one of his most popular collections seems to be that of Orishas.  He exclaimed that  he has sold some of his Orisha work to people who he said he least expected to want to buy his work. He puts this down to the fact that some connection was made spiritually between the buyer and the portrait.


I came across Erik’s work in January in 2010, at an exhibition in Cuba. Over four years later it seems surreal to see some of the same work not far from where I live in London. The concept of Orisha to many is intangible and artist’s representation is subjective. It is interesting to see how  Erik portrays Orisha. He sees his work as  a mission to humanize the Orisha and present them in an accessible way. After all, he says, the Orisha are elevated ancestors who really did exist. His exhibition portrays a range of portraits depicting different Orishas in human form. For me his work is a complete antithesis to James C. Lewis’s exhibition “ The Orisha Experience” that came to London this time last year. I have expressed the fact that I am not a fan of James C Lewis’s work. For me it looked as if he had gone down to the local gym in Atlanta to pick his models with all the six packs and yellow silk underwear, his work appeared to be superficial and over sexualised, having little to do with Orisha energy which is deep and complex.  However Erik’s art is sympathetic and full of depth. As he says, the religion in Cuba is not just a religious path, it is part of the culture. In his words, “ Eso se respire” ( you breath it in). His motivation has been to present depth to each painting evoking the energy of each Orisha. He has painted portraits depicting Elegua, Ogun, Yemaya, Oshun, Obatala and Oya, Osain, Olokun and Inle amongst others. He also made it clear that his motivation comes from the heart as a practitioner of the religion and this comes across in his work. One of my favourite portraits was Erik’s portrayal of Orula.

Orula, taken By me at 13Gallery
Orula, taken By me at 13Gallery

Wisdom and experience and depth of character shines through this portrait. It speaks volumes about the role Orula has,as father of Secrets and one of the witnesses of each individual’s chosen destiny.

What was also curious to me was his choice to paint many of the Orisha with dreadlocks. Erik, explained that he did not want to be limited to how people think Orisha will be portrayed. When it comes to hair, Erik says that his choice of using dreadlocks has more to do with just a hairstyle, It does make a statement and it has to do with identity.  If you read Spanish, there is an interesting article about the work of Erik Olivera here:

For more articles about Erik Olivera’s work, have a look at the Article’s written by Roberto Zurbano   One thing is for sure, these portraits tell a story and if you can see the work up close and personal it is definitely worth going to visit this Erik Olivera’s exhibition in North London. The  photos here are wonderful, but there is nothing better than seeing his work close at hand.

Erik Olivera working on a new piece.
Erik Olivera working on a new piece.

For more information about Erik Olivera’s work, please visit his website: Erik’s Website, including his collections and curriculum, please visit!

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