Photo: Rites of Ochún, Carmen Christina Moreno.
As summer tapers, the leaves will fall, annual flowers will die, apples will drop and rot into the ground. The sweet stench of plant death will be absorbed by the soil and digested, if it’s lucky, by underground structures called mycelium. Mycelium are the root-like, fungi structures that produce mushrooms. They are made out of threadlike filaments called hyphae. The structures of mycelium, which grow outwards, are present in this issue’s cover art by Carmen Christina Moreno.
The piece, which is called Rites of Ochún, is named after a Yoruba goddess origin story. “She is the goddess of fertility and water,” Moreno explains, “and the story is that the Earth is in dire conditions and these male deities are trying to bring it back to life and they fail. But it is Ochún who comes with the powers of waters and the powers of fertility to reignite the Earth.”
Moreno, whose father came to the United States and found work as a migrant farmer, says they experienced deportations and family separation throughout their adolescence. Their experiences studying medicinal fungi have led them to view mushrooms as a model for emerging into space, while considering their own experiences as a first-generation immigrant emerging in the US while being tied, or rooted, to another place.
Studying and making art around fungi has proved therapeutic for these early ruptures of identity and safety. Spending time in La Sierra Norte de Oaxaca, learning about Mezo-American histories and the use of fungi with the teachings of a Zapotec guide, Moreno was able to forage mushrooms like Amanita caesarea, or Caesar’s mushrooms, while learning about cultural histories.
Speaking about the art piece, Moreno continues: “I think a lot of the imagery is me exploring fungi, trying to figure that out, and then there’s figures of women that feel very important in terms of the women in my family. My father’s the oldest of twelve and it’s split male and female, so like, six aunts. They teach me about cooking and how to make mole and roast peppers and all these kinda traditional cooking rituals in the family.”
Back in Rhode Island, where Moreno is currently living and working after graduating from RISD’s grad program in 2022, you are likely to find honey mushrooms and chicken of the woods peeping out of the dirt in the local forests, away from foot traffic. The mycelium hidden below is working hard to equitably distribute nutrients across its network. In the mycelia network, there is no greed. The trees speak to each other through the mycelia, sharing information to stay alive. The filaments of the hyphae put good use to that which is gone, whisking away old matter to become something new.
Join Carmen and The RI Mycological Society on Tuesday, September 5, from 6-8pm for a presentation and workshop on Exploring Fungi through Nature Journaling and Book Arts hosted at the Pleasant Valley Library. RSVP at RImycos@gmail.com to reserve your seat.