The inherent purity of the colour white elicits notions of innocence and virginity yet the intrinsic nature of white is essentially an illusion, its essence an enigma. White is loud yet evokes a sense of tranquillity; white is chaotic yet triggers a sense of stillness. In some cultures, white is death while in others, white represents light.

In Santería, the religion of the Afro-Cuban Lucumí people that emerged in the Spanish Empire among slaves of West African origin, the colour white is used to recognise initiates. ‘Santería’ is a Spanish word meaning ‘worship of saints’. The religion is a syncretization of Yoruba (Nigeria) doctrine and Roman Catholicism. Once an initiation is complete, the ‘Bride of the Saints’ must adhere to a strict regimen of wearing all white and avoid physical contact with those who are yet to be initiated. In this fashion, white becomes a symbol of purity and modesty acquired through a rite of passage. White cleanses the Lucumí from their tormented past of slavery and proclaims them born anew, free.

The white of Santería was the muse behind the work of photographer, Mariano Vivanco, and stylist, Jimi Urquiaga, in their shoot for celebrating the fusion that is Santería: Western and African; past and present. They flawlessly capture the stoicism and rhapsody of the colour white within the  Afro-Cuban religion in a series of enchanting images featuring models Ajak Deng, Alicia Burke, Achok Majak, Duckie Thot and Saul Rodriguez. Hope you enjoy the video below by Kloss Films.

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Photography by Mariano Vivanco for
Creative Consultant – Stefania Alafaci
Stylist – Jimi Urquiaga
Hair – Joey George (Streeters New York)
Makeup – Niki M’Nray (The Wall Group) using Nars Cosmetics
Nails – Mei Kawajiri
Video – Kloss Films (Brydges MacKinney)
Digital Tech – Marcus Donates
Photo Assistant – Tomas Hein, Mario Torres, & Tyler Kufs
Stylist Assistants – Noah Diaz & Jonathan Clizaola
Hair Assistant – Rena Kobayashi | Makeup Assistant – Riley Kate Nelson
Models – Ajak DengAlicia BurkeAchok MajakDuckie Thot, and Saul Rodriguez


Image by Che Rosales CC BY-SA 2.0



Related: Baptized in Santería a man is reborn with a different name and for the first year has to wear white. Learn more about Cuba’s ‘la Regla de Ocha’.

Image by Karolina Lubryczynska CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Related: Representing a shared identity that celebrates Cuba’s rich cultural heritage and unique identity, it has survived due to centuries of oral tradition. Learn more about Cuba’s ‘la Regla de Ocha’.



Related: “They willed, and out of chained wrists, with pained feet and hoarse throat, they danced and cheered, and their voices were heard, proclaiming, exalting their revered Orichás .” – Santería is just one of several Cuban syncretic religions with roots in Africa. Learn more about Cuba’s la Regla de Ocha. 

2 thoughts on “The White of Santería”

    1. Hi Belle! The photos are gorgeous and they are the work of photographer Mariano Vivanco for a shoot. Fell in love with the images & video <3

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