Secrets Under The Skin

Secrets Under The Skin Header

Ma Florentina's Dress

Secrets is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary art installation created by seven artists that premiered December, 2010 in Havana, Cuba, and January, 2011 in Anchorage, Alaska.

The installation, comprised of media, visual art, photographs and -- when possible -- live performance art and live performance, is based on extensive years of fieldwork in Ghana and Cuba by Dr. Jill Flanders Crosby. 

Brian Jeffery Photography

Flanders Crosby’s fieldwork involves researching dance at religious ceremonies where dance and music play a central role and where religious rituals, dances and rhythms are linked across continents as a result of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The seed and context for Secrets Under the Skin stems from Flanders Crosby’s vision of translating field work experiences and the stories and lives of those she has danced beside into an installation that honors and respects cultural context, movement qualities and elder narratives, but is recast as a contemporary, multi-disciplinary project.

During her research, she was privileged to hear and record rich narratives, histories and stories from elders and religious practitioners, especially in Perico and Agramonte Cuba who hold on steadfastly to their African origins. Many of these narratives and elder oral histories underpin the body of work in this project, especially Susan Matthews' work.

The artists who have contributed to this installation have all joined Flanders Crosby in the field sharing and contributing their insights and responses both as fellow researchers and as artists. Their individual artistic contributions are as evocative and resonant as are the oral histories of elders, and stories of African connections. These stories and connections form a web of cultural heritage that underpin, inform, and are embodied in ritual. The artistic contributions you will see on this page form their own web of layered responses and artistic exploration grounded in ethnographic inquiry.

Project Director’s and Lead Investigator’s Statement

Since 1999, I have been privileged to interact, talk with and dance beside elders in the two small rural communities of Perico and Agramonte, Cuba. I have worked for as many years in the Ewe communities of Dzodze, Ghana and in Adjodogou, Togo, locations that share specific ritual traditions practiced in Perico and Agramonte.

I have been fortunate to be surrounded by a group of talented artists and friends and together we have spearheaded a multidisciplinary, trans-generational and cross-cultural artistic collaboration.  Although it is based on ethnographic data, the collaboration is not an anthropological study. It is a contemporary recasting and re-imagining, which honors the cultural contexts of Dzodze, Ghana, Adjodogou, Togo, and Perico and Agramonte, Cuba, and one that attempts to honor who we are as contemporary artists seeking new artistic voices, but voices that are influenced by the communities that many of the artists involved in this installation have visited.

Filming at España Lagoon, Brandon McElroy Photography

My deepest thanks go to all our friends of Perico, Agramonte, Dzodze and Adjodogou, and go as equally to all the fellow collaborators involved in this project. Without them, this project never would have been realized. Together we investigated, imagined, created and realized this project. We all commented on each other's work, offered ideas for consideration and we cross-collaborated frequently inside of our own individual artistic projects.

Brian Jeffery was critical to the filming process in Ghana and Brandon McElroy and Progressive Media Alaska were critical to the filming process in Cuba and in Anchorage where he and I realized an early choreographic/film work that would later support the Performance-Based Video work you will see on this site. Besides his exceptional photography skills, Brandon's work with editing was fundamental to the media component of this site. Community and collaboration are thus the shining gems behind this installation.

While he is not a member of the artistic collaborative team, I never would have accomplished what I did in Ghana without the help of my longtime translator, assistant and co-researcher Johnson Kodjo Kemeh.

Johnson began taking me to Dzodze in November 1991 to introduce me to the depth and complexity of his hometown and we never stopped going to do more work and to do it better. Of course, there are more people to thank than I can further mention. However, I especially want to thank Dr Daniel Avorgbedor for his ceaseless encouragement of and support for my research and for his invaluable mentoring of my work. I thank Douglas Causey here at UAA for his  encouragement concerning this project and Kathleen McCoy for believing in it enough to see the inception of this website as a featured University of Alaska Anchorage Spotlight Research Series. Finally, I thank Ryan Nixon for having the patience to make the website a reality.

Johnson Kemeh, Brian Jeffery Photography

I also extend my deepest gratitude to the Fundacíon Ludwig in Havana and Helmo Hernández, President and Wilfredo Benítez, Deputy Director for their trust and support of this project.

For questions or for further information on this installation, please contact

* Banner image photographed by Brandon McElroy