Gail Williams — visual Artist, Iya l’Orisha
I studied Painting and Ceramics at the Kansas City Art Institute, graduating in 1975. When I moved to San Francisco in 1976 I was very inspired by the Feminist Art movement and started making mixed media work using abstract and figurative imagery, personal and political content, later adding spiritual content by developing imagery based on research of ancient female deities. I exhibited my work locally and nationally during these years, worked in community arts projects and continued studying new art media. I moved into a studio at the Hunter’s Point Shipyard in San Francisco and began teaching art to continuing education students at City College of San Francisco.
In 1993, I entered the MA Philosophy & Religion program at California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). My areas of research were Women’s Spirituality, African Spirituality, and Women’s Studies. My MA Thesis Making Art for the Spirit, The Intersections of Feminist, Sacred, and Creative Practice was completed in 2001. It is a book-length presentation of narrative, artwork, and research. My methodology utilized creative practice, art making, personal, political, and spiritual experience as sources of knowledge production.
At CIIS, Chief Yeye Luisah Teish became my most important teacher. She is an African American writer, performer, and priestess of Oshun and Ifa. Her classes on spirituality of the West African Yoruba diaspora (also known as Ifa-Orisha) were life changing. African spirituality embodies different understandings of the purpose and use of art than European-American. The most basic elements of African spirituality are ancestor reverence, worship of the forces of nature known as Orisha, and reliance on mediums and oracles for guidance. After graduating from CIIS, I continued studying with Yeye Teish and her Ifa-Orisha community, integrating new ways of knowledge into my life and art. I was initiated as Iya l’Orisha (priestess) in 2007. By then Ifa Orisha spirituality had become the center of my life and a primary source for my work.
My current art practice integrates mediums and methods of spirituality and art making. Sacred knowledge, values, and ritual are elements of my creative process as much as art media. Most of the work is still mixed media on paper, cloth, or sculptural forms. I work with all kinds of materials including digital media and the work takes many forms: fine art, decorated ceramic dishes, pit-fired clay pottery and sculpture, ritual art objects, altar installations. My Ancestors and Orisha contribute to the process through direct communication, dreams and divination.
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An Iya l’Orisha is an initiated priestess in the Ifa-Orisha spiritual tradition. Originally practiced by the Yoruba people of West Africa, this spirituality survived in the Americas among enslaved Africans. Many forms developed from their traditions, and today there are millions of descendants practicing around the globe. Orishas are forces of nature like ocean, river, thunder, lightning; or deified ancestors.
Yeye Teish is an Iya l’Orisha Oshun-Priestess of Oshun, and Iyanifa-Priestess of Ifa.
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