Widely known for combining the social roles of priest, religious adherent and artist, the Bahian sculptor Deoscóredes Maximiliano dos Santos was born in Salvador, Bahia, in 1917, where he died in 2013. The son of Maria Bibiana do Espírito Santo – Mãe Senhora (Lady Mother) – the third Iyalorixá of the Ilê Axé Opo Afonjá terreiro founded in 1910 – and of the tailor Arsênio dos Santos, Mestre Didi was married for 43 years to the anthropologist Juana Elbein dos Santos. Between 1949 and 2003, he published several books on Afro-Brazilian culture. His name is connected to the struggle for the acknowledgement and respect for the Afro-Brazilian tradition of Orisha worship. Initiated by Iyalorixá Eugênia Ana dos Santos – Mãe Aninha –, in 1936 he took on the position of Assoba, the highest order in Orisha worship in the land of Obaluayê/Omolu, and went on to manufacture ritual objects of this Orisha. He was later initiated as Alapini, the most important priest of Egun ancestral worship, an ancient Yoruba tradition originating in Nigeria. In both cults, the material objects with strong aesthetic appeal wield a great influence on the works that characterize the production Mestre Didi has left.
Since the 1960s, when he started exhibiting his production, his work began circulating inside and outside of Brazil, including to Germany, Argentina, the United States, France, Ghana, England, Italy and Nigeria. The quality of the exhibition of his works is evidenced by the rich dialogue achieved between the sacred of the Nagô traditions and the permanence of African values in the contemporary world, of which he was a guardian. In the original objects that Mestre Didi developed, memory is creation. The priest-artist is repeatedly remembered for having been one of the three Brazilians present at the famous exhibition Magiciens de la terre (Magicians of the Earth), displayed in 1989 at the Centre Georges Pompidou, in France. The exhibition is an important reference when considering the production that came out of the Europe/USA axis, opening possibilities for other artistic narratives. In 1996, Mestre Didi was awarded a special room at the 23rd São Paulo Biennale, revealing yet again his unique poetics, in which organic materials like cowries, seeds, hides, and palm fronds and leaf veins give life to birds, snakes and pieces, that in Candomblé are known as the Ibiri de Nanã and the Xaxará de Obaluayê/Omolu. Revered as the “Sculptor of the Sacred” in 2009, at the Afro Brazil Museum, the artist-priest possesses works in private and public collections, including at the Museum of Modern Art of Bahia and the Afro Brazil Museum in São Paulo.