Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mestre Didi: Great Afro-Brazilian Artist and Priest Dead at 95

Deoscoredes Maximiliano dos Santos, Mestre Didi died this morning at age 95. Master, internationally renowned artist and spiritual leader of Ilê Asipá.

The body of Alapini (High Priest) of the Cult of Egungun being veiled in the Terrero Ilê Asipá, located in Piata and founded by him on December 2, 1980, his birthday. Mestre Didi, primarily known for his beautiful sculptures, was the son of Mãe Maria, one of the main holy mothers of the Ile Axe Opo Afonjá. Burial will be on the 17h of October, in Jardim da Saudade.

Deoscóredes Maximiliano dos Santos ( Salvador de todos os santos, Bahia, Brasil, December 2, 1917 - October 6, 2013 ) was a writer, and artist of international repute and an important Afro-Brazilian priest of the Egungun tradition He was popularly known as Mestre Didi.

"Master Didi is a priest-artist. His expression works through aesthic creation , one rooted in intimacy with the existential universe where African ancestry and worldview merge with the life experienced in Bahia. Completely integrated into the Nago universe of Yoruban origin, he reveals in his works an inspiration of mythical proportions. He uses a Nagô visual language with which he express the experience of the sacred, which is manifested by a symbology of a formal aesthetic character." Juana Elbein dos Santos.

His Personal and Religious Life:

His father Arsenio dos Santos, who belonged to the "elite" class of tailors in Bahia when Mestre Didi was born, would later move to the Rio de Janeiro at the time there was a great migration from Bahia to the then capital of Brazil.

His mother Maria Bibiana do Espirito Santo, better known as Mãe Senhora (Lady Mother) was a descendant of the traditional family Asipa , originating in Oyo and Ketu, important cities of the Yoruba empire in what is now modern day Nigeria . His great-great grandfather, Sra.
Marcelina da Silva, Oba Tossi, was a founder of the first house of the Nago tradition of Candomble in Bahia , the Ile Ase Aira Intile afterwards known as Iya Ile Nassô. His wife Juana Elbein dos Santos , an anthropologist, was his companion in all his journeys overseas, to the countries of Africa , Europe and the rest of the Americas, which were of great importance for their exchanges and experiences that contributed significantly to the unfolding institutional struggle of the African-Brazilian tradition and fight for respect for minority rights and identity. His daughter Inaicyra Falcão dos Santos, an opera singer, graduated in dance by the Federal University of Bahia , a professor, researcher of African-Brazilian traditions, education, and the performing arts in the Department of Dance Art at Unicamp .

Eugenia Ana dos Santos, Mãe Aninha treated Didi like she was his grandmother, was initiated in Orixá religion and gave him the title of Assogba , High Priest of the Cult of Babalu Aye .Arsenio Ferreira dos Santos was the nephew of Theodore Mark Pimentel, Alapini the first Mestre Didi in the Egungun Cult, the male ancestor tradition, with origins in Oyo , one of the great city states of the Yoruba.

Arsenio Ferreira dos Santos continued the initiations of Didi, confirming him with the title Ojé Korikowe Olukotun. LaterDidi received the title of Alapini, highest rank in the Egungun society, in Ilê Agboula and one year later in 1980 he founded Ilê Asipa onde for the service of Baba Olukotun and other Eguns of the ancient tradition.

In September 1970, not finding anyone in Brazil who could make his confirmation of Balé Xangô, he went to Oyo and performed the rituals in the city which originated the cult of Shango. The ceremony was performed by Balé Sàngó and the Otun Balé of Xangô de Oyo.

His Art and Writing Career:

As a sculptor, writer, essayist and curator, Deoscoredes Maximiliano dos Santos or Mestre Didi was a towering representative of Afro-Brazilian culture.

The vision of Bahia of Master Didi was effectively transmitted via an extensive production of sculptures - which earned him international recognition as an avant-garde artist. Some of his  works are on permanent display at the Picasso Museum in Paris, the MAM of Salvador and Rio de Janeiro, and at several other foreign museums, including in the USA.

Their shapes made  with beads, shells, lace and leather palm leaves are inspired by myths, legends and objects used in the Orixá religion. His initiation - to art and religion - began when he was a boy of only 8. He began making wooden carvings, then came the "Lexus" carved in cement and clay. At age 29 he published his first book, Yorubá Tal Qual se Fala - with a foreword by Jorge Amado and graphics by Carybé.  20 Other books followed, among them stories and the tales of the religious temples of the African tradition of Bahia. But Mestre Didi always judged the written word inadequate in imparting knowledge. In the early 80s Mestre Didi ran a community center where he wrote and staged plays, taught singing, dancing, makeup and the arts to children. He believed there was no dichotomy between the arts, and that all the stories of his people were Afro-Brazilian songs. They were meant to be heard, sung and danced. This is why Master Didi was also recognized as a multifaceted artist, a Renaissance man of Afro-Brazilian culture.  He made the world a richer place for us all!

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