‘Sopera de Yemaya: Okunte,’ 2021 Courtney Desiree Morris

Sopera de Yemaya is an experimental short film in multiple chapters. Yemaya is the Ocean Mother Orisha (deity) in Santería, an Afro-Caribbean religion rooted in Yoruba culture and brought to the Americas, mainly Cuba and Brazil, by enslaved Africans. Yemaya has many caminos (paths) that represent different aspects of her power and divinity, the different natural landscapes she inhabits, and determine how her devotees and petitioners should engage with her in ritual. These caminos were filmed while Courtney Morris was pregnant and are part of a very personal and deep journey towards motherhood as well as an awakening to the inner forces of spirituality, embodying the divine, and the grounded concerns of becoming a mother in a moment of resurgent anti-black racism, state violence, political instability, and global pandemic.

This chapter is built around Morris’ maternal grandmother, Barbara Jean Freeman (passed away in 2019) and her daily morning ritual of reading the Bible. In this fragment, she reads from Psalms 35, which is specifically intended as a prayer for protection against one’s enemies. In the film, Barbara’s voice is laid over the sounds of batá drums, the sacred drums of the orisha tradition. The toques, or rhythmic patterns, in the video are unique to Yemaya—in fact, each orisha has their own specific toques that are used to call them down in ceremony. Combined with batá, the prayer of Morris’ grandmother is transformed into an incantation, a message from the egun (or ancestors), taking on a different force and intensity signified by the images of rain, flooding, storms, and hurricanes. In this film, Morris integrates images of black women who have either lost their loved ones to state violence or who have themselves been victims of such violence: Diamond Reynolds is shown along with her daughter Dae’Anna in police custody after the murder of her partner, Philando Castile (2016); Lezley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown, the 18 year-old shot dead by police in 2014. And there are also three black women: Charlena Michelle Cooks, who was eight months pregnant and forced to lay on her belly as police officers arrested her (2015); 15 year-old Dajerria Becton, violently arrested at a pool party in McKinney, TX (2015); and Breaion King, arrested with excessive force following a routine traffic stop in Austin, TX (2015).

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Produced by:
Curated by:
10/05 2021
Courtney Desiree Morris
Sopera de Yemaya: Okunte, 2021
Single-channel video, color, sound
5 min 26 sec
Music and audio editing by Martín Perna | Camera Crew by Haldun Morgan | Video Editing by Haldun Morgan and Courtney Desiree Morris | Camera Crew Sara Rizik Baer
Commissioned by Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) for st_age

  • Climate action
  • Gender equality
  • Life below water