Friday, November 11, 2011

Waterloo Arts Center

     I am glad we had the opportunity to learn about Haitian art in this class. I was able to go the Waterloo Arts Center and actually analyze the work displayed, instead of just walking past each piece. The first time I saw this collection, I was drawn to the collection, but for many different reasons. I enjoyed the bright colored paintings, elaborate metal work, and the hand sewn sequence Drapos. I took notice to these very characteristics the second time as well, but instead of just looking, I had a better understanding of the collection and could analyze aspects of each piece.

     The piece that I took initial liking to is Erzulie Freda by Antoine Oleyant. This drapo is just one example of a sequined Haitian Flag, that has a distinct diamond-shaped border. The flags are very symbolic and are used to honor the Iwa. They also depict Vodou spirits, and their symbols. Traditionally these honor the Iwa in two main ways including anthropomorphic portraits or geometric representations called veves. Veves represent a particular spirit and enable the spirit to enter the human world. The symbols incorporated include Erzulie Fredam, goddess if kive", Agoue, female and male of the sea, Legba, gatekeeper and lord of the crossroads, Azaka, the farmer, Bossou, the bull, Damballah, symbolized by the snake, and Ghedes, lords of the underworld. Before a Vodou ceremony, veves are drawn on the floor of a Vodou temple using materials such as corneal, flour, or coffee grounds. 

       Drapo Voudou as an art form has seen many changes in the last ten years. New techniques are being evolving such as new themes and much larger canvases. They are also becoming much more elaborate. The most recent development in the art of Drapo are artists that had worked at wedding-dress factories, that are not closed. They introduced new techniques of intricate beading and sequins to the art. This has allowed for even more finer detail. 

     I really enjoyed the metal work as well. I did not take notice to the metal sculptures the first time I went, but this time I examined and looked at the whole collection. For the scavenger hunt, I looked at Spirit Possession by Serge Jolimeau. Riding on the horse is a spirit that looked like a bird, which is seen in the negative space, arched over the horse. In a book I came across on googlebooks, Spirit possession, modernity, & power in Africa by Heike Behrend, the bird was identified as a Dodo. Dodo is a type of bird that was first discovered by Portuguese sailors. This bird is distinct, and was distinct before the camera, so it is unclear what they  really look like. To explain how the spirit possession is depicted , Behrend suggests that "horses of the spirits who mount them to take control of their corporeal shell during the act of possession" and that "the association of mediums with horses may prove antithetical to the art of riding an automobile- where the medium becomes the rider rather than the ridden." I am glad I came across this quote, because it helped me understand the metal piece that much more. I could analyze what was going on in this piece, but I did not really know the full story. 

    From the knowledge I have gained in Arts of Africa, I was able to analyze many pieces from the Haitian collection at the Waterloo Arts Center. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Issues Concerning Contemporary Artists of African Descent

     This week I became aware of the many different issues that concern many contemporary artists, especialy of African descent. The two readings by Sidney Kasfir, Olu Oguibe, and an interview between Okuwi Enwezor and Yinka Shonibare helped explain these recurring issues such as ethnographic displacement, being considered an 'other', and authenticity of traditional art pieces. 

     In our small groups, we discussed the quote "I believe that my blackness began when I stepped off the plane at Heathrow," (166) by Shonibare. I found this quote particularity interesting, and actually had already picked it out to use for the assignment. Shonibare never had to worry about race/ethnicity in Nigeria, mainly because he was in a place where everyone else was black. When he moved to Europe, where he was in the minority, he 'realized' he was black. He did not define himself as 'black,' but this is how other people saw him, so he began to see himself in this way as well. I feel like if I went to Africa, I would feel the same way and realize I was 'white', since I would be in the minority. Most people would not think about their race/ethnicity until they were different than everyone else. 

     Ethnographic displacement was a common theme among these readings. This holds true in the Shonibare article as well as the reading by Ogulbe. In this reading, McEvilly interviews an artist, Quattara, who feels that he is being asked questions that display him as an object, rather than an artist of his subject. The quote,"For Quattara, though, the game is already over. It was over before it even began. It was over from the moment he was born, from the moment he was destined to be-disignated as-an Other" (19). As an African artist who resides in New York, Quattara feels that he is "an Other." People expect him to have certain kind of work, because of his culture. It is hard for Quattara's work to truly be about the art, since people have expectations and stereotypes of what African art should be. 

     Authenticity is discussed in the Sydney Kasfir's reading as another concern for many contemporary artists of African descent. A major stereotype is that artists of a specific culture should produce authentic art pieces. I found this quote by Kasfir to be surprising; "A sculptures worth as an aesthetic object, a piece of invention, a solution to a puzzle of solids, voids, and surfaces is left totally unexamined unless it first passes the authentic test" (95). As we discussed in class, 'critics will always see things how they want to see it', and if a piece does not look real or authentic, they will not even take the time to look at it. They may think the object is worthless, or just an aesthetic object of beauty. 

     The three readings this week really made me think about different cultures and the issues people have to overcome as artists. It is hard to produce some sort of art work, if other people will not be accepting of it, because they already have a stereotype of what it should be. In class, we talked a lot about how artists can chose to represent their work, but either way it may be the 'wrong' choice. The class discussion brought up many great questions, that I left class thinking about. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Interculturation and the "others"

    Throughout this semester, we have discussed how certain cultures affect other cultures. This week was no different as we read Imaging Otherness in Ivory: African Portrayals of the Portuguese ca. 1492 by Blier and Mami Wata Shrines: Exotica and Construction of Self by Drewal. Both of these articles incorporated how foreigners influence different people and their cultures. These foreigners are referred to as the "others."

    In Imaging Otherness in Ivory, Blier focuses on how the Portguese have influenced three different peoples, the Kongo, Beni, and the Sapi.I found Kongo interculutration to be the most interesting, which puts emphasis on spatial frames, spirals, and textile maps. Blier suggests that "compositional frames within the body of the Kongolese horns suggest in this way ideas of spatial and conceptual division such as those between living and dead." Spiral forms are also seen as very symbolic and represent longevity, or having a long life. They are important in compositions and reinforce European identities as a transition of death, and life. 

    Textiles are important for the Kongo as well. Textiles were associated with the dead and they were to function as maps that could guide the deceased to the afterworld. These symbolic textile maps including three pieces of fabric that referred to the sky, earth, and water. Peoples in this kingdom were often buried with hundreds of pieces of cloth that were used to cover the body. They also included Christianity into their culture with the cross, which represents crossroads. 

    It was interesting to really put into perspective how much influence cultures can have on one another, without even realizing it. Drewal puts emphasis on the "others" in the article Mami Wata. The "others" refer to anyone other then the people themselves. Without knowing it, we have been influenced by other cultures in various ways. In our group we discussed the quote from the article, "Museums may be the windows on other worlds, but they also reflect the creator." We put this into perspective as we look at art in a way that we want to look at it, whether that is how it was intended to be looked at or not. This week really made me think about how much interculturation is occurring between different cultures including our own, the Europeans, and Africans. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Spirit Possession vs. Spirit Spouses

            This week I was introduced to the term Vodou. Professor Sutton showed us a picture of a doll with needles sticking through it, and said this is probably what most of us were thinking when we heard this term. I had to laugh to myself, because it was exactly what I was thinking.
I found the connection between Haitian Vodou and Baule Spirit Spouses to be very interesting. Vodou is a religion that originated in Haiti, but is based off beliefs and practices of West African peoples. Africa slaves created this religion when they were brought to Haiti. One aspect of Vodou, spirit possession, seems to relate to the Spirit Spouses of the Baule.
Spirit possession is a supernatural event in which spirits take over control of one’s body. This will usually change the behavior of the one being taken over.  This week we read about Mama Lola, who works in Brooklyn as a Vodou priestess. She has two spirits that take over her body; Ezili Dantor and Ezili Frieda. They are sisters, but are completely opposite. Dantor is described as “sudden, fickle, moving, creative, nurturing, and powerful,” and is the spirit who called Mama Lola to her role as a priestess. Frieda has an ideal life that consists of jewels, beauty, and love. 

Spirit spouses in Baule are referred to either a blola bla, which is a spirit-wife, or a blolo bian, which is a spirit-husband. Spirit spouses are able to bring good luck, because their spirit spouse will follow their human partners and they can affect their lives depending on how they are being treated. They can help or hurt their human spouses with love, health, or money. They can also increase the chances for illness or accidents. Humans and spirit spouses can communicate through dreams, which we read in Mama Lola about Vodou as well.

With Vodou and Spirit Spouses, they both seem to be able to take over humans for good or bad. Humans can communicate with their spirits through dreams, whether they are practicing Vodou or communicating with their Spirit Spouse. In the African Culture, spirits are also communicated through dancing and other rituals.
I was surprised to learn that Catholicism is included into the religious rituals of Vodou. The slaves used Catholicism to “cope with their difficult lives” with different levels such as habit and strategy. The Africans adopted the images of Catholic saints for their own traditional spirits. Madonna with Child is also an example of one of these images.

Friday, October 7, 2011


This week we discussed the Yoruba visual culture and how it communicates Yoruba spirituality. The divination process and belief of twins play a role in the Yoruba spirituality. 

The divination bowl has been used for many years and reflects the beliefs of the Yoruba by the distinct iconography. It is used to hold sacred palm nuts.The one we looked at in class shows a woman kneeling to the divination god. Divination is a way to solve problems with the help of the diviner, or 'babalawo'. During this process, the diviner uses nuts, which are counted and divided between his hands. After the nuts are separated, the diviner makes distinct marks into the wood of the divination bowl, that are either single or double marks. The bowl is used as a center piece and has the face of Eshu, the messenger god, who is a symbol in this culture. The pattern of number marks determine which sign applies, all of which has a story, proverb, or song associated with. The whole ritual performance is very spiritual. 

Shango is the god of thunder and twins. I found the class discussion about twins to be very interesting. Twins and the mother of twins are very respected in the Yoruba culture. Twins used to be sacrificed and even rejected, but now they are extremely welcomed. People of this culture believe that twins represent happiness, health, and prosperity upon their family. The first twin born is called Taiwo and the second is called Kehinde. Taiwo mens 'having the first taste of the world', whereas Kehinde means 'arriving after the other'. Sometimes the mother of the twins will have to beg for offerings, even if she is well off. People often give because it takes more to raise two, and people who give will receive blessing. 

The spiritual belief of the Yoruba is that twins share the same soul. When one dies, the other twins soul is not in balance. This explains the effigies, which are the twin sculptures. A mother will carry around the twin sculpture and treat it as if it were a real child as well.

Friday, September 30, 2011

African Art that Depicts Women

This week in Arts of Africa we spent a lot of time comparing different objects from different cultures. As I was looking through all the objects that we have discussed in class so far, I took interest in the Asante Akua'ba doll and the Mossi Karan wemba mask. 

The Asante Akua'ba doll is made out of wood by the Asante from Ghana. This object is made very sacred and is a symbol of fertility. The Akua'ba doll has very distinct characteristics including high, flat, foreheads, round heads, small mouths, and slender necks.Being round is representing the mother in her state of pregnancy. During pregnancy, an expectant mother will carry this doll on her back so that her child will be beautiful like the doll. During this time, when the woman is carrying the doll, she will treat it like it is an actual baby. The doll will be bathed and cared for. 

The Mossi Karan wemba mask is made by the Mossi peoples. These masks are made out of wood and metal, but classified as a wood-sculpture. The masks are symbolic of woman of great age, wisdom, and experience. The sculptures are made to look beautiful by representing a woman by her natural beauty and youthful appearance. Pierced ears or beaded earrings are often added to reflect the Mossi ideals of embellishment. 

Both of these objects represent woman, just in different ways. The first one is symbolic for fertility. The object itself is very flat and the shapes are all symbolic of a certain aspect of a woman. The second object, the wemba mask, is made to represent more of an ideal woman and is used as a way to be horned as a living ancestor. It is still abstract, but the features are more natural than the ones of the Akua'ba doll. Children are symbolic in both of these objects as well. The doll can be made with a pertruding naval to represent fertility, and the wemba mask includes scarification around the naval to represent having born children. An important difference in these objects is that the doll is symbolic of 'fertility', and the wemba mask is symbolic for 'honor'. 

I have found all the comparisons we have done very interesting, because I enjoy relating objects from completely different cultures. It is fascinating that each culture has objects for their own purpose, but in some way they can relate to another culture and their purpose. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

How Masks Mark and Effect Change

This week in Arts of Africa we focused on masks and masquerades. To get a better insight on the topic we read an article titled Introduction: The Mask, Masking, and Masquerade Arts in Africa by Herbert M. Cole. This article focused on masking history and myth, art and form in masking, spirits made tangible, audience and levels of understanding, masked spirits as mediators and masking arts in specific African culture. We learned about masks of three different cultures, the Baule, Bamana, and the Bwa. Watching the video of the Bwa masquerade gave me a greater insight of what masking is all about. It was an opportunity to see the masks in action, instead of just reading or looking at pictures of them. 

Along with learning about the process of masking and masquerades, we discussed how the masks are used to mark and effect change.This proposed question was confusing to me at first, but the more we discussed it, the more it made sense. Each culture, the Baule, Bamana, and Bwa have their own meanings and importance to their masks and masquerades. 

For the Baule, four pairs of masks are used during a masquerade in a certain order. The fixed order starts off with a pair of disk faced masks (Kple Kple), then a pair of animal helmet masks (Goli Glen), next a pair of horned face masks (Kpan Pre), and the last pair are human-faced masks (kpan). Each mask pair is significant for a different stage in age and life. The Goli is used to symbolize fertility during agricultural ceremonies and is also used at occasions of a new harvest and funerals. 

The Bamana have masquerades that mark change by age grades. This form of masquerade is used to change boys and girls into men and women, since they are getting older. They do not only 'change' boys and girls, but they teach them skills that they will need to use. The Chiwara is an example of this, by using Chiwara masks, dances, and rituals to teach young men agricultural techniques and social values. As Cole states in his article, "They learn to organize themselves, create rules, hold mock rituals, and identify their own leaders." 

In class we discussed the Serpent mask, which is an example of change for the Bwa. They were told by their spirit diviner to make a mask that is a meter taller another village to help them find woman to marry. Apparently one of the villages were having good luck with woman, because of their serpent mask, so the Bwa had to make one as well, but taller to gain the same sort of 'luck' and status. 

In the video we watched in class, it stated that the performers are constantly changing, but the actual styles of the masks change very slowly. Masks also effect change in the sense that the performers change who they are for the masquerade. As Cole states, "Masking arts may also quite drastically alter human forms."

I enjoyed the part in the article where Cole compared Spirit transformers to our Halloween or Mardi Gras. We take these holidays as a fun way to dress up. Spirit impressionism in Africa is a very serious matter, whereas 'dressing up' to us is playful in nature. 

As I was thinking about how change is a major part of these different cultures, I started thinking about our own culture and the United States in general. It seems to me that First Communion, Conformation, and baptism are all religious ceremonies that mark change. An even simpler example for the U.S would be birthdays. Each year we celebrate another year of life. Certain birthdays such as 16, 18, and 21 mark and effect change, because the age itself allows us to be able to drive, vote, and drink. We also gain knowledge and skills as we get older, as I mentioned for the Bamana.