Friday, November 11, 2011

   Well the scavenger hunt was a bit trickier than I had expected; I brought a friend along and we got into debates as to what piece of art work had the figure the paper was referring to.  I'll mention the one I was the most uncertain with.  I wasn't sure exactly as to which painting had the figure of Erzulie Fr├ęda or perhaps it was Erzulie Dantor, because the one female figure I saw suckling a child (Ti?) was dark skinned and she was standing in the corner of a painting with a man playing cards on a table.     
   The paintings upstairs were so colorful! I love the brightness in these paintings; one doesn't see that as much in western paintings.  I know this has nothing to do with the Haitian art, but the Bahamian artist exhibit was wonderful.  I really dig that kind of art work.  The Haitian art was lovely as well.  It was filled with Haitian iconography and symbolic colors.  They also seem to use bold energetic lines to describe the forms.
     There was a room with nothing but drapeaus, those were impressive, and quite sparkly.  There was a drapeau that depicted a dancing skeleton, with liquor bottles and a hat.  I think this is referring to Baron Samedi, as he is often associated with having a skull like face, and wears a hat, and he is the cross roads spirit who welcome the dead into the afterlife.  There was also depictions of veve on the drapeau, and symbols of power, and wisdom, such as the snake.  I saw a drapeau with a big mermaid on it.  I wonder if this referring to Mami Wata?  I didn't realize she was a Vodou spirit also.  There were other drapeaus with figures on them I did not recall learning about; I’d like to go back sometime and learn more about them.  The scavenger hunt ensured that I explored every last micrometer of the museum.  I even ended up in a kitchen by accident.  I’m pretty certain I saw every last bit of art work they had up there.  I was really impressed by their selection of African inspired art. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

What I thought was shocking was how the critics, though they are supposed to be well rounded and educated, seemed rather small minded and a tad ignorant in their actions.  In the articles the critics were spoken of in different lightings, but all of the lighting seemed unflattering.   Y.S. talked about how they liked to compartmentalize his works as African, but then judged him for not being African enough.  Even though he is English, however, his skin color seemed to be the most pressing matter on their minds, not the statement he was trying to make through his art work being a curious mix of “African-ness” and “English-ness”.  This seemed to  be the case though in differing degrees in all three articles.  African art is seen as authentic depending on the critic who wishes to see it as such.  African art that is influenced by the West is still authentic African art because ignoring the West’s entanglement in their past and culture would be ignoring a major part of their history.  Their history is the story of who they are, and how they got to the point where they are as African peoples.  I don’t see why African art, with the slightest bit of western influence would be considered not authentic when it is a part of who they are and how they wish to express who they are.   There truly is no measuring stick for African “authentication”.   African art should be dealt with by acknowledging its context as a whole instead of it being isolated, poked apart and prodded like “specimens” as Kasfir says.
    I feel that when we take something  from other cultures and mush it into something of our own, we find no problem calling it truly American.   Why can’t the critics see this in other countries' blended qualities.  They (critics) tell them who they are instead of listening to them explain as to who they are.  These articles were a bit unsettling as I would have hoped that people would be past ethnic presumptions and prejudice, and instead just enjoy the awesomeness and diversity that is African art.     
   I wonder what is being done about such boxes that the West creates for African artists?  Instead shouldn’t they be seeing them as kindred creators, human first?  If a Caucasian is born and raised in Africa, would they be treated the same way, or would their African-ness be disregarded?  Is it their African ethnicity or culture that seems to hang up the minds of the critics?  Black skin= a slew of culturally instilled presumptions.   

Friday, October 28, 2011

What's Yours is Mine

I actually really enjoyed the articles we read for class this week; I didn’t feel like I had to trudge through them; they were good reads.   There was a lot of information to take in however, but the question & answer sheet helped me to digest all of that information a bit better.  The articles seemed to reiterate themes we have been learning about the African peoples throughout the course of this class.  The first article discusses the interpretation of the arrival, and interaction with the Portuguese by the Beni, Sapi, and Kongo peoples, while the second “Mami Wata” article discuses the interpretation, and incorporation of “the other” (overseas foreigners) into their own cultural, and spiritual ideals/ideas.   
                I love how the first article really looked in-depth into the importance of the objects being made, and traded by the African peoples during that time period.  There were plenty of visual clues that showed as to what they were thinking.  The Portuguese were associated with the other world and the ancestors, and the passing between the world of the living and the dead.  The Beni people associated the Portuguese’s facial hair with the gills of the mud fish which is a creature that seems to pass from life to death, to life, and also passes from water onto land, back into water.  The ocean is seen by the Kongo peoples as the “bridge” between this world and the next.  The fact that the Portuguese crossed over the ocean to get to them would give the Kongo people the impression that these folk are perhaps the dead coming back into the world of the living.  The Portuguese brought wealth, and dangerous weapons, and spoke of God---all of this, as the articles explains, would have been seen as evidence of the Portuguese bringing back news, and items from the powerful “other world”.  The color white is seen by these peoples as a color associated with the other world; the Beni peoples also associate it with their god Olokun of the ocean, and of wealth.  In their objects, such as the Sapi salt cellars, the Portugese are akin to the diseased: being depicted by the Sapi as seated figures, crouched in the same position as they position their dead for burial.  The Kongo peoples saw the crosses the Portuguese came with as symbols of the “cross roads” which they saw as a symbol speaking of the interconnection of the spirit world and the earthly world.
                In the “Mami Wata”  article, the influence of the “other” (forigners) shaped the way they saw and worshiped their water spirit Mami Wata.  The Mami Wata worship reminded me a bit of Vodou, in how it incorporates different aspects from foreign cultures while still having it’s own distinctive identity as a religion, and African practice.  Also, it reminded me of Vodou in that the article referse to the religion as being very personalized to the worshiper's needs, and the shrines seem to be “mirrors” of the person using them.  They also ask Mami Wata for their fulfillment of dreams of wealth and prosperity, dreams that seem similar to the ones of the women from the Vodou article.   Mami Wata is seen as being foreign herself, generally white, and her foreign-ness is seen as her being analogous with the wealth and power that overseas foreigners seem to bring in.  Lithography of Hidu goddesses influenced the Mami Wata worshipers ideas about how their water spirit looks.  The first popular image was of a goddess with snake, they say this as being Mami Wata as she is known to have a rainbow snake companion.  Today, though, a lithograph of a Hidu goddess flanked by servants is more commonly used.  Her shrines may even have crusifixes hanging in them because, as the article says, they say she was a Christian (was?),  so, this seems to further emphasize her “otherness “. 
                Both of these articles discuss the effects of cross cultural pollination, from the Ewe filtering what they see from foreigners into an amalgamated yet still distinctly Ewe water spirit named Mami Wata: with a fish tale, western table, and Hindu tilaka—to the Beni, Sapi, and Kongo peoples depicting the Portuguese in their art as other worldly ancestors bearing the sign of the “cross roads”.  Our cultures are more tightly knit than I think we assume.  They are adapting to change, and making it work for what they need in their lives each day.

Friday, October 14, 2011

       What I find interesting about the vodou religion is how it ties in with the African religions we have already studied in this class.  Vodou seems to be a tool for the Haitian people; a way of feeling as though they are maintaining a balance in life.  Life for the Haitian people is often unpredictable and full of differing counter balances that seem to be in opposition with one another.  What I gather from the McCarthy Brown article, the Haitian people seem to be caught between dreams, and aspirations, and the opposition of reality that grates against those dreams and aspirations.  Each loa specializes in a certain bracket of life that the Haitian people experience or may experience.  It seems like a somewhat customizable religion.  Depending on what trial a Vodou devotee may be going through, they can choose as to which loa would be most knowledgeable or efficient in helping them with their current problem.  In order to implore the loa for this guidance, they must honor it, and draw forth its attentions.  They may do this by either using animal sacrifices (hey, that would get my attention) or by lighting a candle, or drawing out symbols, or by opening themselves to be “ridden”.
      The Yoruba would also implore specific spirits, with certain specialties, to guide them through possession.  In Vodou the creator god was far from the people and the spirits were the mediators between the earthly world and the spirit world, and god.  This is just like the Yoruba people's beliefs, their creator god, too, was far from the people, at the top of the gourd, while spirits were closer to where the two halves of the gourd meet.  
       The Baule of the Ivory Coast have “spirit spouses” that they must spend personal devotion time with, and also must give gifts to their S.S. in order to keep in their S.S.'s favor.  In vodou, the practicer’s relationship with their guiding lwa/loa, reminds me of the Baule’s relationship with their spirit spouse.  They make offerings to their loa, and their relationship with them is a rather personal relationship, in which the person will not always talk about what they have heard or experienced with their loa, just as they wouldn’t divulge everything about their experiences with their spouse.  They also use their loa as counselors.   They discuss with them their problems, then wait for the loa’s instructions that will hopefully point them in the right direction life-wise.  Again, rather like the spirit spouse, in my opinion.  I also think the Haiti people pick loa’s that they feel can relate to them the most, and fit their own personality the best, rather like picking out a life mate.
            Black in Latin America, the Henry Louis Gates documentary, was very enlightening.  I had no idea that Haitian people were viewed as rather inferior in the eyes of some Dominicans do to their strained past, and cultural divide—very unfortunate.  I wish that these peoples didn’t put so much weight on their cultural, historical, and even genealogical background.  I was amazed at how resilient the Haitians have been throughout history, and how practical the development Vodou was when tying into the chaos ensuing around them.  I was also impressed by the melding acceptance that occurred among the early Haitians when they were brought over as African peoples from various beliefs, and cultures.  Instead of them fracturing up, and creating divides amongst one another, they banded together and created a culture, and strength that was all their own. 
    The way some Dominicans seemed to reject all things African, and African loving, was really quite sad—they’re missing out.  Then again, I wish Americans wouldn’t do this as well.  It’s important to appreciate, and respect differing scruples, and gene pools (appearances).  The USA started out as a British colony, but I don’t find my identity in “Englishness”, though genetically I’m Irish, and Hebrew I don’t find my entire identity in “irish-jew-osity”.  I really love, and act on a wide array of cultural practices and pastimes.  I love diversity.  We can all learn from each other.  

  I think the Dominican, and Haitian relationship could be heading in that direction though:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yoruba Vibrance!

        The Yoruba have a thriving and vibrant rage of iconography and symbolism which relates to their spiritual beliefs & ideas.  The birds quite fittingly symbolize "our mothers", and are placed upon the crow of their leader to visually validate and display his standing with the women in the village--one of acceptance.  Eshu, the trickster god, is shown with two faces and a rather phallic looking connector between them.  In class I learned that the two faces were symbolic of Eshu's polarized personality: he can be very good or very bad (tricky).  The phallic appendage relates to Eshu's rule over sex lives.
 I love the “two halves of a gourd” idea when it comes to thinking about the spirit world and the earthly world.  Both bow off far and away from one another, yet still, just kiss each other around the rim.  The creator god is at the top of the arch while the unknowing are at the bottom.  The Yoruba people are closer to the rim where they are just that much closer to the creator god.  They are near where the cross road are, and where they can implore Eshu to be a messenger.  The Yoruba people these beautiful divination plates, and often have carving of naked female supplicants, and the big eyed face of Eshu.  I assume the big starring eyes relate to seeing into the spirit world as we've learned to be true in other African people's culture.
     I think it's neat that women are held in such high regard spiritually in the Yoruba culture.  Women are seen as having a lot of spiritual power, older women even more so.  If only women, and the elderly were honored more in our culture; I feel that often in the media, women are objectified, and the elderly are seen as irrelevant and unimportant.  How sad this is!  I can see why the Yoruba masqueraders we saw in class with the Caucasian masks were dancing this as an example of how not to handle relationships.  I think, to them, western women are not responsible with their power, and the men do not respect it accordingly. 
  I love the masquerades.  The masquerader is covered from head to toe to hide their awesome spiritual power.  The Yoruba people have such lovely iconography.  I think it’s fascinating how they incorporate these into their beautiful designs: in their masks and all their objects  

Friday, September 30, 2011

Hornbill Masks, and Funerary Heads

My objects are the Hornbill masks of the Bwa, and the Akan Funerary heads.  The Funerary heads are made of terracotta and the designs on the faces of these figures represent distinct scarifications that identify the deceased.  The faces are rather simplified; the facial features give one the impression of a face but do not describe the face in realistic/naturalistic terms.  The faces of these figures also seem to be quite rounded, either exaggeratedly circular or oblong.  I wonder if the faces are shaped this way in order to idealize them, perhaps they find these face shapes particularly beautiful.  The Hornbill masks also have rather rounded faces, and I am not certain as to why that is, but, perhaps it’s an allusion to the shape of an owl’s face, as the mask also has big staring eyes, and the masks relate to seeing into the other world.   
            The Akan heads also sometimes have sort of bulgy starrng eyes, somewhat like the wide peepers on the Bwa Hornbill mask, which we’ve learned to be a symbol of seeing into the spirit world.  The masks, like the funerary heads, have meaningful symbols and design scrolls over them.  The designs on the hornbill masks, however, do not symbolize scarifications per say, but relates to ideas that are important to the Akan peoples.  The zigzags mean the pathways of the ancestors, while the black and white checker board symbolizes knowledge etc.  All of the designs on the masks have a specific meaning and purpose.   Both of these objects have to do with connecting to the spirit world, though the funerary heads also have to do with honoring the dead.

Friday, September 23, 2011


What I was interested in, as I watched the movie, was how connected everyone was in the masquerades.  When I think of performances, I also think of a “barrier” being put up in a sense, between the viewers and the performers, and the musicians.  We tend to segregate these elements.  The masquerade that we were watching seemed to bring all these elements together, and there were no scowls as a woman jumped out of the audience to show off her dancing skills, as there would be if a western audience member were to suddenly jumped onto a Broadway stage to show off their groovy moves. 
              The audience in the movie could enter into the world of the dancing, the musician could direct and interact with the masquerader.  The masquerader could intrude upon the audience—though—I suppose it isn’t really intruding since there really seems to be little to no barriers between these three elements.
                This is what I understand so far about the masks: the masks are teachers, and can evoke  change.  They are symbolic, and can be allegorical.  They can be seen as a way to connect to the spirit world: manifesting powerful spirits for the community.  They can be seen as immensely powerful and affecting objects—just as a catholic might feel about a crucifix: both can be seen as transmitters of power. 
   The Dwo was my favorite mask.  This is they’re way of communicating, and expressing their worship, or honor, to their creator—every bit of the imagery, music, and dance is as important and meaningful to their culture as a Christmas mass with its music, traditions, and religious iconography would be to a Christian congregation.  Just as holidays with their song and dance traditions are meant to bring about remembrance or inspire a certain mindset in a community, I feel too, the masquerades give this effect.  The idea behind the Dwo, actually, reminded me a bit of the idea behind Easter, sort of this communal reflection on death and regeneration, and the celebration thereof.  The market masquerades, I think, they do relate rather to a church congregation, though perhaps more like that of a Pentecostal congregation (to stick with the Christian analogy): where people come together for fellowship, and the preacher (masquerader) can hop up and down using his charismatic skills to charge up his audience, the choir (musician) is charging up the preacher, preacher charges up the choir, choir the audiance…ect..  It’s a bit of a symbiotic relationship.  I know some masquerades are more secular.  I am just trying relate the masquerades with how westerners integrate celebrations as a way to create a certain communal spirit and understanding (religious or secular).   
                The symbolism on the masks is so very strong.  I can see why they’re masks are so revered.  We have similar convictions, burning an American flag would be like spitting a loogie in a patriot’s face, because that flag is rit with symbolism that sparks specific convictions, and connotations within the mind of the one who reveres said symbols/symbol.  Conversely, the burning of the Dwo is in its self apart of its revered symbolism. J