Walking up the Roads of Yemoja
The Roads of Yemoja (5/6)

Walking up the Roads of Yemoja

Fay Chiang fellow Laeïla Adjovi looks back at two years of research connecting the dots between religious systems in Benin, Nigeria, and Cuba.

It feels like yesterday, or not so long ago, January 2020, that I travelled to Canada for the first time to meet the ArtsEverywhere team in Guelph and be named the first Fay Chiang Artistic Journalism fellow. I remember being overwhelmed–and not just by the cold. It felt like anything was possible: I was about to set course for a year of travels connecting the dots of religious transmission across the Atlantic between Benin, Nigeria and Cuba. I had no idea of the storm that was coming. 

C-O-V-I-D. Five letters that slapped the whole world down. Five letters that forced us to confront the extreme elasticity of time. Five letters: S-T-U-C-K. Closed doors and shut borders. We lost a lot: loved ones, jobs, mobility, and a certain sense of security and predictability. To protect our sanity, each of us found shields and shelters. Mine were in books. Reading and writing became my bunker. 

Months later, when planes finally started taking off again, the nature of my project had shifted. I had mobilized resources from philosophy, anthropology, history, history of religions, sociology, African mythology, literature and cartography, breaking boundaries between disciplines and interrogating my own position/intention as an interviewer and researcher. In this time of intellectual wandering, ArtsEverywhere supported me and gave me space to move deeper into my academic and artistic practice. 

Before long, the words and images floating behind my eyelids became a new body of work. At the crossroad of artistic photography, creative documentary, sound design and literature, The Roads of Yemoja examines how a West African deity (known as Yemaya or Aflekete in Cuba) survived the horrors of slavery and became venerated on both sides of the Atlantic to this day. 

Delving into the Yoruba and Ewe-Fon heritage in Cuba, I came across forms of resistance that don’t equate with blood or war, and explored how the word and the worship travel with us and within us no matter what. I collected and assembled new narratives on African and Afro-Cuban spiritualities, that I articulated around the role of women in transmission and the importance of oral archives. My ambition is that this ongoing venture gives a voice to religions that were vilified and silenced for too long, while fueling a conversation on cultural resistance, fragmented collective memory, and creolization. 

It feels like yesterday, or not so long ago, that I did not know who Fay Chiang was. And oddly enough, Fay and I met after she passed. It was through people who admired her and were eager to celebrate her life’s work that I got to know her. Since my project revolves around memory and the legacy of ancestors, I guess it all falls into place. I hope she knows how grateful I am. I hope she is proud to walk with me on The Roads of Yemoja.

Selected Images from The Roads of Yemoja
Filed Under: Articles & Essays

Images and Text by

Laeïla Adjovi is a Beninese-French reporter, photographer and visual artist based in Dakar, Senegal. In 2020, she became the first recipient of the ArtsEverywhere Fay Chiang Fellowship for Artistic Journalism.

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