Claire Garoutte and Anneke Wambaugh Santiago is possessed by the Palo spirit, Sarabanda. Changes in facial expression are lightning quick. Leaves, essential to all forms of Palo ritual, appear in abundance.
In the gallery…

The Water

A Path to the Afro-Cuban Spirit World

April 1 – 29, 2008

Featuring: Claire Garoutte and Anneke Wambaugh

The Photographic Center Northwest is pleased to present a unique and riveting photographic exhibition, entitled Crossing the Water: A Path to the Afro-Cuban Spirit World, by local photographers and authors Claire Garoutte and Anneke Wambaugh. The 50 images selected for this show and the thought-provoking text panels that accompany it have been edited from their upcoming book of the same title. This Duke University Press publication was released January 2008.


Focusing on a single ritual expert and his religious environment, the exhibition offers an unusually intimate and dynamic view of the Cuban religious practices of Santería, Palo Monte, and Espiritismo. Compelling photographs, informed text panels, and succinct captions combine to illustrate the spiritual power and energy of ritual as enacted by Santiago Castañeda Vera, a highly respected priest living in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba. Santiago’s embrace of more than one religion and the practice of blending aspects of different traditions are by no means unusual in Cuba. Over the last century, there has been a great deal of symbiotic interplay between Santería and Palo Monte, on the one hand, and of these Afro-Cuban religious traditions with Roman Catholicism and Espiritismo, on the other. This cross-fertilization is particularly pronounced on the eastern end of the island. Santiago, although rooted in particular spiritual traditions, has forged his own path. Free to combine, transform, improvise, and innovate as he sees fit, Santiago practices his religion, as he is wont to say, en mi manera—”in my own way.”

The photographic essays in this exhibition focus on Santiago Castañeda Vera’s ritual artistry and on the sacred objects, thrones, and altars that mediate his ongoing dialogue with the spirit world. The text panels draw on interviews with this prolific priest, scholarly research, and the personal experience of the authors. Complementing the photographs, they anchor the viewer in Santiago’s world and contextualize his ideas within the larger spectrum of Afro-Cuban spirituality.

Local artists, Claire Garoutte and Anneke Wambaugh, bring years of experience and research to this exhibition. Their evocative photographs not only draw the viewer into a world rarely witnessed by outsiders. They offer viewers an unprecedented opportunity to better understand the diversity of Afro-Cuban religious traditions. This deeply affecting visual document encourages its audience to look beyond stereotypical depictions of a religious culture and a nation that have so often been misrepresented and misunderstood.

Claire Garoutte is Assistant Professor of Photography at Seattle University. Her work has appeared in exhibits in the United States and abroad. Garoutte began photographing Afro-Cuban religious practices in Cuba in 1994. She is the author and illustrator of Matter of Trust.

Anneke Wambaugh is an award-winning photographer and an independent scholar of African and Afro-Caribbean ritual art who has worked extensively in Cuba and Haiti. She works as a Haitian Creole interpreter in Seattle.

For more exhibition images & information see www.crossingthewater.com