Sopera de Yemaya, 2020

Still: Roberto Ruiz | TBA21, 2020
TBA21 on st_age

Four-channel video installation, color, sound
Commissioned and produced by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary for st_age

In the four chapters of Sopera de Yemaya, artist Courtney Desiree Morris reenacts the many “caminos” (paths) of the orisha (deity) Yemaya that determine how devotees should engage with her in ritual. On this Morris builds a very personal and deep journey toward motherhood, grounded in the concerns of giving birth in a moment defined by resurgent anti-Black racism, state violence, political instability, and the global pandemic. Yemaya is the Ocean Mother orisha in Santería, an Afro-Caribbean religion rooted in Yoruba culture and brought to the Americas, mainly Cuba and Brazil, by enslaved Africans. Etymologically Yemaya means “the mother of fish children,” recalling the vastness of her fecundity and abundance of life, vividly celebrated in her cults, at times also with processions, dances, and chants.

Filmed in summer 2020, Sopera de Yemaya responds to the murder of George Floyd and the widespread Black Lives Matter protests. This event becomes a lens through which to examine white supremacy as a social and ecological project that creates structural inequalities, disregarding the lives of racialized and Indigenous people. The grief of Black mothers who had to live through their children’s deaths and the ongoing violence and brutality against Black bodies is here presented also in relation to acts of mourning in animal relations, with references to marine mammals and creatures. The soundscape includes Morris singing, her breath, and the beating heart of her daughter in utero. The journey through motherhood and spirituality is built also around Morris’s maternal grandmother, Barbara Jean Freeman, and her daily ritual of reading the Bible every morning. Freeman’s voice is laid over the sounds of batá drums, the sacred drums of the orisha tradition. 

The four-channel video installation is completed by an orisha altar to Yemaya, with the traditional objects offered to the deity in the shrines and rituals dedicated to her, such as the pot or “sopera,” which in Morris’s work becomes a metaphor for motherhood itself—conceiving of the womb as a “sopera,” a vessel or container for life, for the feminine divine as embodied by Yemaya. 


Group show: Remedios
Venue: C3A Centro de Creación Contemporánea de Andalucía, Córdoba
Curator: Daniela Zyman
Exhibition 14 April 2023 -  March 2024

Born in Fort Ord, California, US, in 1983. Lives in Berkeley, California, US.