Thursday, November 10, 2011

Waterloo Center of The Arts

     When I went to the Waterloo Center of The Arts I wasn't sure what kind of Haitian art I would see I was a little surprised with certain things and excited to see others. Ever since I saw the Drapo they quickly became what I thought an interesting piece of African Art. Drapo are sequenced flags that have symbols or imagery on them that tell a story or have some kind of meaning. They have been employed in the service of Vodou  worship to announce religious affiliation and spiritual militancy in devotion to deities. The Drapo were influenced by the banners of the Fon Kings of Dahomey. They also borrowed from the ways that the European colonial masters used flags and banners. Many of the contemporary flags are made of satin, velvet, or rayon and are often adorned with beads or sequence. As embodiments of spirit they incorporate the colors and symbols of the deity. One particular Drapo that caught my eye was one that was similar to the one that was in our History of Arts in Africa book. This particular Drapo is organized around a graphic emblem called a veve, a ritual drawing created on the ground to evoke the lwa. The central point of the crossing lines indicates the crossroads where the spiritual and physical worlds intersect, and where the spirit arrives when invoked through ritual. The snakes depicted on this Drapo refer to Danbala, a deity associated with water, coolness, and wisdom. The heart refers to Ezili Freda, a female deity associated with with love and affairs of the heart. The circular form refers to Simbi, a water deity associated with healing. Campaigns to suppress the practice of vodou led to maintain it behind Catholicism. Relating the imagery on the Drapo to Catholic saints to make it seem better than it really was.

     Other things I saw where many Mama Wata sculptures, paintings, and banners. Mama Wata is a water spirit and is often portrayed as a mermaid. She represents a "free" unencumbered spirit of nature detached from any social bonds. She is more broadly identified with Europeans rather than any African ethnic group. Although her name Mama refers to mother she has no children or family of any kind. Substantial evidence suggests that the concept of Mama Wata has its origins in the very first encounters of Africans and Europeans in the 15th century. The first representations were probably derived from European sailors' lore about mermaids or from marine sculptures and ships' figureheads.

     All in all going to the Waterloo Center of The Arts was a great learning experience and to actually see some of the things we had talked about in class and everything just seemed to come alive for me I will definitely be going back in the future to explore different things.

                       Bethany <><

Friday, November 4, 2011


     When we discussed the articles in the groups it was interesting how everyone thought about the different articles, the quotes they chose, and why they chose them.
The Swing by Yinka Shonibare

  What is "authentic"art? that was one of the questions asked in my group. It really made me think about how what we perceive as "authentic" is the traditional African art. So if we went to Africa what kind of art would they consider "authentic" of us. Another dilemma that comes up is how we think that because they're African that naturally they should create African art. I was reading the article "Yinka Shonibare: Hedonism, masquerade, Carnivalesque, and Power" and this section really caught my attention it says, “I think it was during my art school education that I realized I was not going to be allowed to be a universal, anonymous artist, if there is such a thing; but that was my utopian view. It was quite a revelation because I realized that regardless of my internal thoughts, the way I was perceived on the outside was different. I also realized that I was in a double bind. If I made work about being black, I would be considered simply an artist who made work about blackness; if I did not make work about being black, people would speak of me as a black artist who did not make work about blackness.” So basically because he's an African artist, people expect him to make the "authentic traditional art" that we think of when we think about Africa.

     In the Olu Oguibe article I read that, “Until recently works of classical African arts were dutifully attributed to the “tribe”, rather than to the individual artist, thus effectively erasing the latter from the narrative spaces of art history.” I think that's very sad to create something and then to have people recognize it as artwork created by a specific people group. Denying the identities of artists in being identified with the collective, anonymous production pattern that inscribes primitivism. So the questions I have are: What is "Authentic" art? and the general question of Why? Why shouldn’t African artists be able to make any art they want? Why do people expect them to make strictly "traditional" African art? Why are African artists not being recognized individually for the art they create?

                  Bethany <><

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Monkey See, Monkey Do

     "Foreigners" play an important role in the lives of many different groups of people. Such as the role the Portuguese played on the Africans. When the Portuguese arrived in Africa they had brought with them their beliefs and ideas. They where also perceived to the Beni as the living dead. This idea was probably reinforced by the fact that in Benin the color white is not only associated with death but also identified with Olokun the wealthy god of the sea. Olokun is sometimes worshipped in tandem with Mami Wata. In the article Mami Wata Shrines Henry John Drewal states, "Devotees of an African water spirit known as Mami Wata take exotic object, interpret them according to indigenous precepts, invest them with new meanings, and then re-present them in inventive ways to serve their own aesthetic, devotional, and social needs." The Beni also noticed that the Portuguese carried crosses with them which they took as the crossroads. Since the Beni thought these items were very similar they identified with the "foreigners" in this way.

     When the Portuguese arrived in the Kongo the Kongolese also connected them with the other world. The crosses that the Portuguese carried with them served as additional support for the idea that the strange white skinned, long haired Portuguese came from a nether world of spirits and the dead. After seeing the Portuguese these two groups of people took what they had seen and heard. Adapting them to their cultures the re-interpreted the different things and embraced them into their own way of life. Drewal said, "People intentionally or unintentionally use the objects of others to define themselves." We see this many times in the article Mami Wata. Her followers select fragments from their study of foreign cultures and invest them with new meanings to create sacred symbols that will appeal to their vain and potentially troublesome spirit. Everything is re-shaped, re-symbolized, and re-presented. 

The idea of taking objects or thoughts from others and re-presenting them to a culture isn't for certain people. We as Americans do it all the time from copying food from other countries that is changed to our version of that type of food to adapting the personality and looks of someone we know or admire, in other words pretending to be someone we're not, trends and such it's happening all the time. I think Bakhtin said it the best when he wrote, "We appraise ourselves from the point of view of others, we attempt to understand the transgredient moments of our very consciousness and to take them into account through the other . . . ; in a word, constantly and intensely, we oversee and apprehend the reflections of our life in the plan of consciousness of other men."

                                    Bethany <>< 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Haitian Ritual Art

     Vodou. What is it and where did it come from those are two very good questions. It is a religion that honors and calls upon various African gods. According to the DVD "Black in Latin America" Vodou comes from the slave trading days of Haiti when Africans were taken from their native land and shipped to a French colony in Haiti and is still practiced today. In Haiti flags with sequence called drapo have been used in the Vodou religious worship to proclaim religious affiliation and spiritual militancy in devotion to lwa. Many of the contemporary flags are made of satin, velvet or rayon and often have sequins, beads, or applique attached to them(A History of Art in Africa pg. 533). As embodiments of spirit they incorporate the colors and symbols of the deity. A emblem called a veve, a ritual drawing on the ground to evoke the lwa. The central point of the crossing lines of the veve indicates a crossroads where the spiritual and physical worlds intersect, and where the spirit comes when invoked through the ritual. Some drapos have snakes on them this refers to a deity called Danbala associated with water, coolness, and wisdom. Some have hearts this refers to Ezili Freda, a female deity who is associated with love and affairs of the heart. A circular form refers to Simbi a water deity associated with healing. Campaigns to suppress the practice of Vodou in the 18th and 19th centuries led to strategies to maintain it behind the face of Catholicism, so while the drapo designs can be related to African deities they could also be masked by relation to a Catholic saint. The saints where incorporated into Vodou because there histories and qualities closely relate to those of a particular African deity.

Women being possessed during Vodou ceremony, Haiti

       Now I would like to share some of my thoughts about Vodou. Honestly learning about this for me was a little uncomfortable and scary. When we read the article about possession by spirits  and watched the DVD it made me uncomfortable because to me that isn't normal, but for the Haitians who practice Vodou it's very normal. Some people may watch that movie and think that it's not real and they fake it. Being a Christian I believe it's unfortunately all too real and this stuff could and does happen. Sadly they believe that they are being possessed by their gods or ancestors when in reality they're actually being possessed by demons pretending to be their gods so that the people will keep on believing and never find the truth. Satan is out there trying in every way he can to keep everyone from knowing the one true God and if that means taking on the identities of many false gods he will do just that. Some people believe that the western world has demonized Vodou and that it's not supposed to be like that unfortunately that's basically what it is demon worship. For me this was a very hard subject to get into because I don't believe in it and I believe that it's dangerous to mess with. Luke 8:12b in the Bible says, "then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved."1Peter 5:8 says, Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."


Friday, October 7, 2011

From The Visual To The Spiritual

     In Yorubaland there are many pieces of art although they are all different most of them share a common tie to Yoruba beliefs. One example of this would be King Ariwajoye 1's (ruler of Ila-Orangun, Yoruba, Nigeria, 1977) crown (A History of Art in Africa, pg. 239). This crown has fringe that protected him from the gaze of the profane. It also has three tiers of abstract faces that decorate the body of the crown. Depicting ancestors and ultimately, the god Oduduwa, they refer to the mystic union of the living king with his deified predecessors. When the king wears the crown his being is changed. His head is covered by the veil and the crown, and his inner head becomes one with the power, ashe, of the ancestors. He cannot touch the earth so he stands on a mat or puts his feet up on a cushion. The kings face is hidden behind the veil and the ancestor eyes stare out instead. This way it is the vision of dynasty that is emphasized instead of the person who wears the crown. Thus tying the visual culture with the spiritual.
Ariwajoye 1, Ruler of Ila-Orangun, Yoruba, Nigeria, 1977

     Another great example of visual culture tying with the spiritual is an Opon Ifa or Divination Board and an Iroke or Divination Tapper. Two gods Orunmila and Eshu, serve as communicators or messengers between gods and humans. Orunmila is the creator god and can help people gain knowledge of their destinies as they live them out. Eshu is defined as uncertainty, chance violence, and trouble. A diviner meditates between Orunmila and the human community through an ifa. The essential sculptural object for ifa is a divination board. Like most it is circular in design and has a plate-like surface with a raised edge filled with different carved images. The face of Eshu is carved in the top center, five more appear to the left and right of it. When used the tray is sprinkled with dust from a special wood. The diviner throws sixteen palm nuts to determine a configuration of eight sets of signs. There are 256 combinations that can occur and each one is known by name. To attract the attention of Orunmila and Eshu the diviner will tap the iroke on the center of the divination board while at the same time reciting verses to acknowledge and honor Eshu, the messenger.
Opon Ifa (Divination Board) Yoruba, Nigeria, 19-20th century. Wood. & Iroke (Divination Tapper), Yoruba Nigeria.

       Perhaps the most thoroughly dynamic art forms of the Yoruba are masquerades. One called egungun is associated with the veneration of ancestors believed of helping the community if they are properly honored. some of these masquerades impersonate the spirit of the recently departed, while others appear to entertain when ancestors are venerated. Egungun are identified with specific families and serve as a link between the living and the dead. Before it is danced prayers are said, ifa is cast and charms are attached to the bodies of the dancers and placed inside their costumes. Putting on there costume the masker is depersonalized, transformed into a human repository for the spirit of the returning ancestor. Then the dancer will enter a state of possession and speak with the voice of the deceased.
Four Textile Egungun Masquerades, Near Remo, Yoruba, Nigeria

     So even though the visual culture can take on many different forms we can always tie it back to the spiritual beliefs of the people of Yorbualand.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Comparing Faces

     This last week in class we did a lot of comparing different objects and different cultures. I decided to compare the Akan Terracotta Funerary Sculptures with the terracotta and brass Ile Ife heads.

     The Terracotta Funerary sculptures were made by the Akan's in Ghana. These sculptures were used to commemorate the deceased. The clay included heads, heads attached to rudimentary bodies, and heads attached to funerary vessels. Most of the terracotta images were made by women. To others the sculptures do not appear to be exact realistic portraits, however the artists insist that it is a very close likeness of the deceased. Royal terracotta portraits were often displayed wearing fine cloth and and seated on chairs surrounded by terracotta and human attendants. The sculptures were then paraded through the streets to the royal graveyard. Until the last few decades the portraits did not display descriptive imitations  of actual humans, but rather generic renderings  of heads with a few individualizing characteristics, such as hair styles or scarification. Some heads were flat this was a reference to idealized beauty. Such heads are flat and thin, with simplified features. Others are fully round and naturalisticly modeled, these are simplified and idealized by showing neither age marks or blemishes. Many styles and types of heads are known suggesting developments and changes over several centuries.

     The terracotta and brass heads are made by the Ile-Ife in Nigeria. Many of the heads discovered at Ile-Ife are complete works in themselves and are used on alters. In modeling the faces the artists have rendered the way flesh and muscle lie over  bones. This naturalism embraces a degree of idealism. The brass heads show the same idealized naturalism as the terracotta heads. Like the terracotta heads they display the same idealized naturalism. The eyes, lips, and ears are styled according to ideal models. But the features are still individualized. The face has vertical striations found on many terracotta and brass heads made by the Ile-Ife. These markings are thought to be scarification or they may be purely an aesthetic device. There are also holes along the hairline probably used to attach a crown. Others have holes on the face just above the jaw line and across the upper lip, probably for attaching facial hair to make it look even more realistic or a beaded veil to hide the lower portion of the face. While many of the heads found at Ife once formed part of a larger figure, from most of these only fragments have survived.

     Both of these sculptures portray idealism. Showing what is beauty. Even though the funerary sculptures look so abstract that we couldn't understand how it could possibly look realistic of a person. It could be a realistic portrayal of the persons personality. They're both made out of terracotta, and both have very intricate details or individualized characteristics. They're both made to honor people or a specific person that has died.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Masks and how they mark and effect change

     How do masks mark and effect change? This is an interesting question that I will answer using the Bwa people as a example, but before I do we need to ask a few other questions. First what are the functions of masks? The answer to this is simple there are many different functions, however two of the main ones are that they are a form of theater and they are a form of worship. Who dances masks? the answer is young men. in Herbert M. Cole's essay it states that in one of the myths of the Dogon, Senufo, Baule, Kuba, and Igho people, women were the first to have the secrets of the masks and that women were the first masked dancers. After which the masks and their rituals were taken completely over by men, who then usually excluded women from all rites except as onlookers. Today women dance not with the masks but they can dance during the masquerades. The next question is who owns the masks? basically different families own different masks and will carve their own. Families such as the Bonde family in Burkina Faso consecrated a mask called the hornbill mask. On this mask there two colors black and white. Black symbolises knowledge and white symbolises those who are just beginning to learn. Another mask called the Do mask is made out of leaves it is typically danced at funerals and ensures the renewal of life. Yet another mask called the Serpent is danced at harvest time and helps the men be able to court and marry women. The story with the serpent mask is that a group of people from the Pa village tried to raid a nearby village for wives but they were ambushed and so they ran and took shelter in a snake hole crying out to the serpent save us and we will worship you. So the serpent agreed. The people built a mask to honor the serpent and from then on the men have been lucky in courtships. That's just one way that a mask has effected change. The last question is what seems to be the interaction between maskers and the audience? There is a variety of different interactions depending on the mask. Some maskers make fun of people in the audience. Others lash out at them in anger. While some people in the audience will get up and dance with the masks. Masks have authority over the dancers the same authority as a teacher. The masks are supposed to represent change. The change of a group of people over time. The dancer becomes embodied when he actually in a sense becomes the animal doing the same things that it does by actually in that moment becoming the animal or as Cole said in the essay, "Spirit characters vibrate between opposing forces and transcend them. The structural integrity of these binary oppositions, moreover, is in part defined by spirits who separate the two while simultaneously bringing them together. Ultimately, it seems, the mediator bridges the gulf between opposites and creates of them a kind of spiritual, conceptual, and cosmic unity. Many specific masking situations can be cited to exemplify this role of spirit as mediator and, finally, unifier. "Ancestral" maskers bring the "incarnate dead" into the realm of the living, linking these worlds and showing them to be one."

                                                         Bethany <><