Iroko, the Tree of Life Opens in Connecticut

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. — “Iroko, the Tree of Life,” an arts project featuring Eastern Connecticut State University faculty members Imna Arroyo, Tao Chen and Jaime Gomez, opens this spring in three Connecticut art spaces.

The Clare Gallery and Charter Oak Cultural Center, both in Hartford, as well as MS17 Art Project Gallery in New London, are the spring 2017 exhibition hosts. Each installation focuses on distinct interpretations of “Iroko–the Tree of Life” as home of the ancestors, humanity and the gods.

The project includes three art exhibitions, a short film and a book that will serve as the catalog for the traveling art exhibition.  “Iroko” is inspired by the sacred “Tree of Life,” known as “Iroko” to the Yoruba people of West Africa and those of the African Diaspora, “Yaxché” to the Maya, “Kapok” in Southeast Asia, “Silk-Cotton Tree” to Indigenous North Americans and “La Ceiba” in the Caribbean, and in Central and South America.

The tree is of great symbolic, spiritual, mythological, medicinal, magical, commercial, ecological and aesthetic import. Through the exploration of materials old and new as well as traditional and innovative technologies, this multi-media installation focuses on the mysteries of nature using Iroko as an anchor to express the power, continuity and resiliency of nature, which hold the promise for a sustainable future if nurtured and honored.

Humberto Figueroa from Puerto Rico and Migdalia Salas of MS17 Art Project Gallery are the curators of the traveling exhibition. Art installations are by Imna Arroyo and include drawings on Amate paper, etchings, relief sculptural prints created with handmade paper and encaustic, reed fiber-woven sculptures, as well as a multimedia video.

The video was created in collaboration with graphic and digital media artist Tao Chen and video producer Jaime Gomez. It includes visuals of Indigenous people from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta of Colombia by Gomez and videographer Julio Charris as well as traditional Yoruba Orisha songs sung by Amma McKen, Iya Ola and Swahili Henry and a new dance performed by Eastern student Sinque Tavares and choreographer Alycia Bright-Holland, assistant professor of theatre at Eastern.

Iroko also includes a book designed by Tao Chen featuring essay contributions by ecologist Carmen Cid, art historian Maline Werness-Rude, and writers Isis Rakia Mattei, María Vázquez, Esperanza Cáseres Santa Cruz, Jaime Gómez, Migdalia Salas and Humberto Figueroa.  To view a video trailer for the project, visit  Exhibition dates are listed below.

“The Tree of Life/Árbol de Vida,” an exhibition of mixed-media works by Arroyo representing personal interpretations of the tree of life opened on March 16 in the Clare Gallery at the Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry, 285 Church St. in Hartford, and will run through May 21, 2017.  The artist will conduct a workshop on April 8 from 4–5 p.m. as part of Slow Art Day. A reception and the Iroko Tree of Life film viewing will follow from 5-7 p.m.

The “Iroko: Home of the Ancestors/La Casa de los Ancestros” exhibit and Tree of Life film will also be presented at the Charter Oak Cultural Center, 21 Charter Oak Ave. in Hartford, from March 23-May 6, 2017.  The exhibit features Amate paper drawings and wood cut tapestries by Arroyo exploring the Ceiba tree as the home of the ancestors. An opening reception and film showing will take place on March 30 at 5:30 p.m.

“IROKO: Home of the Gods/La Casa de las Orichas” comes to the MS17 Art Project Gallery at 165 State St., New London, from April 22-July 1, 2017.  This multidisciplinary exhibition is dedicated to the Ceiba as the Tree of Life and focuses on the dialog of the environment, spirituality and art. The exhibit includes the Iroko Tree of Life short film produced and directed by Arroyo, Chen and Gómez. An opening artists’ reception takes place on April 22, 2017 from 5–7 p.m.

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