Shamanic journeys

Nothing is wasted in Raphael Vega's transformative art


Artistic expression and energy transformation are one and the same in Raphael Vega's shamanistic world view. He goes so far as to say that shamanism originally gave birth to dance, music, singing, performance, ceramics, sculpture, painting and all other forms of art seen in the world.

Vega creates shamanistic sculptures, or "dolls," from found objects and precious collectibles, located on his trips around the world, from his family home in Puerto Rico, to his hometown of New York, to far-flung locales in Mexico, Peru, Thailand, Africa, Guatemala and Panama, among others.

An artist reception for an exhibit of select work by Vega is Saturday (Aug. 11) from 5-8 p.m., at Dragonfly Blue Gallery, 109 Kit Carson Road. It is free and open to the public.

Ranging from 1-3 feet in height, the works feature skulls, antlers, horns, animal teeth and skin, textiles, gems, stones, sand, grit, precious and semi-precious metals, and even metal dust.

"You'll notice the coronas - the crowns, the headdresses, the horns," Rafael said in his Pecha Kucha talk in 2016, describing commonalities in indigenous art around the world. "If they had coronas, crowns, it meant they were receiving a power, that it was emanating from their heads, their bodies, and being transformed there."

Growing up in New York, he says he was ashamed of being Puerto Rican. But one day he started researching his mother and dad's birthplace, and their family history.

"Puerto Rico, you know, was the first place Columbus came across Natives," Vega said, in an interview at the gallery last week. "I was already interested in North American Indians. I had American Indian friends and became interested in cave art, the petroglyphs and shamanic art of Old Mexico's Aztecs. I just got to Peru last year and finally had the opportunity to go see some of all that work."

He recently sold a large subject, loaded down he said with sterling silver and a full macaw headdress. "It is hard to let some of these pieces go," he admits a bit sadly, but said he realizes the works have their own journeys and impacts to make in others' lives. "I bring back lots of textiles, like from the Amazon, or mud cloth from Africa. Old Saltillo cloths predate commercial dyes here in New Mexico," he pointed to the fabric on one piece, over a wire-formed body covered in stingray skin.

Typically he doesn't use animal skulls for his creatures' heads because "they already have a face," meaning the former animals' eyes and nose holes interfere with his interpretation of the energy he's bringing through.

In "Mystic Warrior," however, a very large piece, he did incorporate a badger skull, placed upside down. Around the warrior's neck are horse's teeth painted pale turquoise, arrayed in a breastplate necklace. The being holds "an authentic, very old, old spear point" in its right hand and sports an African mud-cloth batik, bear claw, Venetian glass trade beads and bone-bead decor.

"In my world, nothing goes to waste," he says intently.

One lovely, very delicate piece includes an East Indian bridal sari and a Tibetan silk prayer shawl, plus a sprinkling of rubies, turquoise, amethysts and freshwater pearls.

"From the moment I saw his work, I was entranced," Dragonfly Blue gallerist and artist Lysa Monteill says about Vega's work. "I first saw it back in September last year. He came in and invited me to see his work at the Fall Arts fair in Kit Carson Park. He had the very first booth as you walked in and I saw it. My jaw must have been dragging on the ground," she said, almost in jest.

On his Pecha Kucha 2016 Vimeo, Vega shows examples of what inspires him: paleotlithic, Egyptian, Incan and Mayan art, Native American rock art and petroglyphs. He is actively shamanistic and gets further inspiration participating in occasional ayahuasca ritual.

"There are a lot of similarities between all the cave art around the world," he said, which show the acquisition of power as shamans enter altered states of consciousness, indicated by various natural elements - feathers, gold, silver, amber, jade - "in keeping with shamanism, which is that we are all related as human beings and also related to plants and animals.

"The indigenous people were trying to acquire the power of these animals and trying to get close to the source that connects us all as humans. Shamanism is the use by man, as an intermediary, to connect us to the supernatural and the natural worlds, and as a result, we have art."

For more information on Raphael Vega, see or call (909) 784-8490.