Thursday, November 10, 2011

WCA visit and Sexuality!

We were required to go see the Haitian art collection at the Waterloo Center for the Arts this week. It was very interesting and really exciting to see art work that we have been learning about in class these past few weeks. It's always better to actually see the art work that we learn about then just seeing them in slides, because slides just doesn't do the art work justices. We also had a discussion in class about the articles we read by Rotimie Fani-Kayode called "Traces of Ecstacy," and by Kobena Mercer called, "Eros & Diaspora." Both articles were very intriguing and brought up good points, it also raised a few question for me as well that I would like to discuss further, but first I would like to discuss and reflect on my visit to the Waterloo Center for the Arts.

When I went to the Waterloo Center for the Arts to see their Haitian art collection, I found a lot of what we talked about in class show up in many of their art works. I noticed right away after look for a few minutes at the different art pieces that Mami Wata showed up in many of the pieces. As we discussed before Mami Wata is a prominent figure in their society because she is the spirit that can bring good fortune. I found for 4 art pieces that had her in them, which is a significant amount considering the are of Haitian art was rather small. I also notice chickens were a common theme through out the collection. I feel like this was the case because they use chickens in their vodou ceremonies, they are one of the animals they sacrifice, as we have seen this in the video we got shown in class a few weeks prior to this visit. This leads me to the picture that was entitled "Ceremony" by Wilmino Domond. It is a painting depicting how a vodou ceremony looks as it is being done. They had drummers in the picture, along with a guy that had been possessed by a spirit, and it also showed the sacrificing of a cow and a chicken.  All of these things are important in the ceremonies of the Haitian People. It definitely showed part of the Haitian culture.

Another art piece that I found quit intriguing was the Drapo of a veve design. It was called Carrefour by Myrland Constant. It was interesting to me because I think the veve designs are fascinating, probably because the have meaning behind them and I can't necessarily read what they mean or stand for. It's kind of like my interest in Chinese and Japanese symbols. I like them because I can't easily read them, so I have to look them up to know what they mean, which is always fun because I love learning new things. It's the whole idea of mystery behind the symbol that I like. Anyway I found Carrefour to be fun because of the fun colors and the veve symbol caught my eye. As I was looking at it I noticed the sequence patterns had a follow to them which made it different from the other Drapos I looked at. It had a movement with in the drapo that I liked. But I couldn't help but wonder why the artist picked the colors that he or she did? Was there meaning behind these colors or were they just picked at random? It was just a question that came to my mind as I was looking at this piece that I found so interesting.

Another question I could not answer, that I asked myself came from the reading that we did in class. The article by Rotimi Fani-Kayode entitled Traces of Ecstasy. The article was about his work that dealt with homosexuality and how it is controversial to the world that can't exactly except it. Towards the end of his article he states, " However, sometimes I think if I took my work into the rural areas, where my life is still vigorously in touch with itself and its roots, the reception might be more constructive. Perhaps the world recongnise my smallpox Gods, my transsexual priests, my images of desirable Blake men in a state of sexual frenzy, or the tranquility of communion with the spirit world." This quote stuck out to me because it raised some questions that I had about his reasoning here. I wondered why does he thought his work would be more excepting in rural areas instead of bigger cities? I feel like it would be less excepting in rural areas because I feel the people in rural areas are more conservative then city dwellers. Reason I think this is because bigger cities have more people that are more diverse in ethnicity, sexuality and thought then people of a smaller population. Smaller populations don't have that much diversity. So, as I read this statement by Rotimi that was the first question I came up with. But the real question is would smaller towns and villages except it more? I guess we won't know until it has been done.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Authenticity? What is that?

For class this week we were to read 3 articles that all dealt with authenticity in some way shape or form. We were to look into what questions these articles resonated for us and what quotes stuck out to us. Then we talked about these questions and quotes more further in class to get a better understanding of what each article was trying to get across.

One quote that stuck out to me in the article by Shonibare was a statement stated by Yinka's tutor. The quote said," Well your African aren't you? Why aren't you making authentic traditional African art?" The reason this stuck out to me was because it reminded me of how people stereotypically think about other people from other parts of the world. Just because you might be from another part of the world doesn't mean that you are any different from someone on the opposite side of the world. Yes, you might see things differently and make things differently because that's part of your culture but as we have talked about in class before globalization is always taking affect. We learn from other people their customs, values, and ways of doing things. We learn how to adapt with one another. Just like Yinka here, he isn't going to produce authentic traditional African art if he was never influenced by it. He is going to produce things that he has been influenced by. He stated in this article that he was more influenced by American programs then African ones. So, it makes sense that he would make contemporary art over authentic traditional African art. For an example when I think of California I think of surfers, but I know not everyone is a surfer that lives in California. If I did then I would be classifying everyone into the surfer category when I know only a few people are actually surfers. So why classify Yinka into thinking he is going to do the authentic traditional African art? You can not assume just because someone is from Africa that they are going to just make that alone. They have been influenced just as much as the rest of the world by globalization.

This also raises the question what is authentic traditional African art? Is there such a thing? Who decides what is authentic? What is authenticity? All these come to mind as well for me when reading these articles. I feel like there isn't really a true authentic art. I feel like that is based on the viewers discretion, or the producer themselves or the culture's people. I feel it's what people feel is authentic. It's kind of like asking the question what is normal? Everyone has their own view on what is normal. My definition of normal may not be your definition of it. It's all based on the person themselves. That's how I feel authenticity is. This also brings me to thinking if say an American were to go to Africa what would they expect us to make? What would our American authentic art? Is there such a thing as American authentic art because we are so diverse? I don't know but it's something I thought of when reading about the expectations that people had of Yinka. So in essences I feel authenticity is a debatable topic that I feel people can't really justify or explain.  

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Others!

The "others" was our main topic and discussion this week. The "others" are defined as people of foreign places, most like of a Caucasian decent. They are depicted in many ways through different cultures in Africa through their art. One of the cultures I would like to focus on is the Sapi and how they depict the "others."

First lets talk about what the "others" are in the Sapi culture. The "others," to the Sapi are the Portuguese because they are the people who came from the sea. This is significant because they believe that the "others" from the other world come from the sea and come back as white people. The reason the people are seen to come back as white instead of black is because white is associated with death and the other world. This makes sense then to why they saw the Portuguese as the other people because the fit the description of how the saw the "others," from the world beyond. But I also must state that the Sapi are the one culture that had little or to no interaction with the Portuguese. They got most of their information about these people from stories that got passed down to them. So their images of the Portuguese are somewhat altered which I will go more in depth how this is significant later.

Most of the Sapi items that depict the the "others" are through their ivory salt cellars. These items depict many of their beliefs of how they saw or represent them. One of the things that could be on these salt cellars is a person in a bent knee position, reason for this is because it represents the way they bury their dead. Also another item that maybe on these salt cellars is a serpent which is seen as a water spirit to the Sapi. Crocodiles may also appear on these because they stand for wealth. Another animal depicted on these salt cellars are birds because the are seen to be communicators between the two worlds. Birds are also able to talk in their language and human language which makes them good communicators within these worlds. The egg shape of the salt cellars are another important feature of these items. The reason for this is because the egg shape signifies fertility and where life all comes from. The Janus forms are also present too. These are double head forms which represent people with extraordinary powers. These are just some of the items that could show up on these ivory forms. There are many more objects that could show up. But all these items that I listed here are significant in the representation of the "others" or the Portuguese, such as the serpent is important because the "others" are seen to come from the sea and the serpent is a water spirit which obviously relates to water. The bent-knee positions of people are important for the representation of the Portuguese because the "others" are closely related to death and this how they bury their people. Basically, for each meaning of each of these items that can be depicted on these salt cellars is tied in somehow to how the saw the Portuguese and their beliefs of the "others."

As I stated earlier, the Sapi never interacted with the Portuguese or if they did it was very little. They got told what they looked like and what not. This is a significant fact because the Sapi depiction of the Portuguese would be slightly altered because they barely or never saw them. It's kind of like the phone game by the end of the game the saying has been switched around to say something totally different. This is kind of applies to the Sapi because they altered the images to what they may have thought the Portuguese looked like so a lot of the items still included their African ideas and looks. An example of this is the face features of the people depicted on them. They showed more African like features in the face then it did for a Caucasian person.

Basically this shows that each culture is going to adapt their beliefs and images on what they see or hear. They are going to alter these items to match up with their beliefs within their societies. So it goes back to the whole idea that cultures are going to adapt items and integrate what they pull out of a culture.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Vodou in Relation to African Cultures!

When many think of Vodou they probably think of crazy people being possessed by another spirit. But for the Haitian people this is a common reality. They believe in the idea of Vodou and possession. It's part of their religious belief and a part of their everyday life. This religion, though wasn't originally formed in Haiti but was brought to Haiti from Africa, through many different cultures. So in essences Vodou is link to many of the religious beliefs of the different cultures in Africa and have many relations with one another.

Vodou was brought to Haiti from the Bohomean, Yoruba, and Kongo slaves that ended up in Haiti according to Karen Brown. Now it's practiced by 80% of the population of Haiti. Both genders practice and serve both female and male spirits in Vodou. These spirits will take over the person body and ride through them to send their messages. They can be flexible and will take on different forms where ever the spirit may be. Vodou people also celebrate spirits and priesthood by dancing and doing drumming. They also pour libations in respect of these spirits as well.

These different things they do for their spirits in Vodou is also very similar to the African cultures way of respecting their gods. Since most of what Vodou was founded on was based from the Bohemean, Yoruba and Kongo cultures, a lot of their ideas and beliefs were passed down to the Haitian people. One of those similarities or beliefs is the idea of possession of people. As I stated earlier Vodou is based off the possession of the spirits which is similar to the way people get possessed in masquerades in African cultures. They say that the people who dance in the masquerade take on the spirit of the mask and start to act like that spirit during the performance. Also, in African cultures they celebrate their gods by doing ceremonies to honor their gods just like the Vodou do for their spirits. They also have ceremonies in which they celebrate initiation into adulthood or into a type of group. Which I feel Vodou based their ceremonies for priesthood off of. Example of an initiation in African Culture that is possibly similar to the ceremonies of priesthood, is the Shango initiation from the Yoruba culture in which the men take on the form of Shango in their inner head (a sign of possession). Another idea the Vodou took from the African cultures is the idea of using libations to respect the spirits. Libations in African culture are used in the same way. They use those libation to respect their gods, an example of an item that uses libations is the Bamana Boli. This item is useful for religious rites in the Bamana culture and is made up of libations of semen, blood, nails and among other things. (Picture below)

As you can see many of these ideas that Vodou have in their religious belief stem from some type of African influence. Either by way of possession or by the way they honor their gods or spirits. Whatever way they are influence you can definitely see that African influenced in much of Vodou's religious beliefs and ideas.

Vodou is a religion not often talked about in our society here in the United States. So as I was learning about Vodou this week I wanted to learn more about it, since I don't know much about the religion. So I did some research of videos about Vodou and I came across this video from National Geographic which I feel reiterates what we learned in class this week and shows more of how the spirits work. It definitely brings a real life perspective to everything that Vodou stands for and believes.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yoruba and Spirituality

Spirituality is one thing that is very prevalent in the Yoruba's visual culture. As I was was reading in the book and listening to the lecture's in class this week I noticed that many items showed their spirituality. Items such as, the divination bowls where  the two halves of the bowl show the spiritual world and the real world or the Altar Bowl where it shows many of their spiritual beliefs all in one item. Whatever the item is it shows some type of belief they have within their culture.

The Divination bowl is one of the many items I found this week to be interesting because of the way it shows their spiritual beliefs. It's a bowl that has a lid and is divided into two halves showing the real world and spiritual world. The real world is called Aye and it is the bottom half of the bowl depicting the living and the unknowing, where as the top half of the bowl is the spiritual world called Orun. This half of the bowl shows the spirits and the gods. These bowls are commonly used to stored religious items in them and most likely to be found within a shrine.

Eshu is one of the gods that is commonly displayed on these divination bowls because he is the god that goes between the spiritual world and the real world. This makes sense because these bowls obviously show both of these worlds, so having the god that goes in between both worlds should be on these bowls.

The other item that goes along with these divination bowls and show the Yoruba's visual spirituality is the Altar bowl or what they call Olumeye. This item was to be given to the altar of an orisha. It shows many of the beliefs that the Yoruba believes in, such as the women shown on top of the divination bowl are a representation of honoring the women within the culture. The divination bowl is also depicted too. This as I explained early is a bowl to hold religious items. Then there is a women holding the divination bowl. She is depicted this way because she is to be the one who is making the offering to the certain god to take the items within the divination bowl. All these items on this sculpture is in some shape or form related back to their spiritual beliefs. 

The Altar bowl and Divination bowl are obviously good examples of how the Yoruba spirituality is depicted through their art. It's shown through depicting gods or other figures that represent their beliefs. Each item and many more are obviously important in their society and the way they see their world and the spiritual world. It's obvious how important Yoruba beliefs are and how important it will be in the future.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tellum Ancestor Figure V.S. Bamana Boli

This week in Art of Africa we were asked to compare and contrast between two items we have learned about in the last month and half. I decided to compare and contrast between the Tellum's Ancestor Figures and the Bamana's Boli.

As I was looking at these to figures I notice that they were both made of sacrificial material. Meaning that their our other means beside just wood and clay that make up these to figures. By other means, I mean that they are made of blood, semen and among other natural fluids. They also have powerful meaning behind them such as the Boli is use for a spiritual meaning or a spiritual charge and the Ancestor Figures that have raised arms are representing prayer which is part of the spiritual realm.  These prays are associate for asking for rain or other things of that nature. The abstraction of both of these items are similar in a way even though one is more of an animal like figure and the other is human figure, but the way the body is represented in both of these is very abstract. They obviously show a more unorthodox way of representing the limbs of these figures. The arms and legs aren't as natural looking as they could be. These were some of the things I noticed that were similar to both of these items.

I also many differences in these figures too. Such as the Boli is, as I stated before an animal like figure and the Tellum Ancestor figures are human figures, but that isn't the only thing that sets them apart. The Boli figure receives libations. This means that it has organic fluids such as blood and semen thrown on it. This is what makes it spiritually charged. As for the Tellum Ancestor figure they don't receive any such libations. The Tellum Ancestor figure that enters the spiritual world to ask for things on the behalf of the owner. So these figures have powerful meaning within the spiritual world. Another important differences with these two items is the Ancestor figure is owned by people within the community and the Boli is part of the men's association called the Kono, so it's part of a ritual ceremony. Even though I stated earlier how these two items were similar in abstraction. They are also different in it to, because the Boli figure has no indication of a face but the Tellum Ancestor figure does, which helps with the identification of that item. If the Boli were to have a face it would be much easier to tell it was an animal figure and not just a sculpture of some kind.

With these many similarities and differences. We must look at these items as for the way the are and their meanings. As you can see different cultures can have similarities among one another in making their spiritual items or figures but yet have just as many differences, which is what sets them apart from one another. Without these differences we wouldn't have different cultures but without the similarities items wouldn't make sense because they would be non recognizable. So what I'm trying to say similarities and differences are always a good thing when comparing and contrasting any two items such as the Boli and the Tellum Ancestor figures like I just did in this blog. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mask and Masquerades

The main topic for class this week was talking about masks and masquerades. We read an article by Herbert Cole called "Introduction: The Mask, Masking, and Masquerade Arts in Africa. He made some good valid points that I would like to talk a little about them this week in my blog.

One of those points that stuck out to me is the difference between representing and being embodied by the spirit of the mask. He stated that people of English speaking background pen the word mask as being a representation of a spirit not as seeing the person being embodied by the spirit within the mask. If we think about Cole's point, we as western people do have a tendency to just see the people in the masquerades as representing the mask and not as some who is possessed by the spirit or taken over by it. As he stated in his article African cultures see it not as a representation but more as the human being taken over by the spirit. It's the way the spirits come back to interact with the real world. Like we stated in class during discussion, the embodiment is the person becoming the spirit and the representation is the mask itself. So for example the Crazy Man mask of the Bwa culture is a representation of a anti-social man but once danced it becomes embodied into a real live spirit that shows this representation. It's part of their culture and their religious beliefs to see these mask as more then a mere representation.

Something that I notice this week while looking through the slides and watching the DVD about the masquerades was that taking the masks away from their context and outfits makes them seem so sculptural and insignificant to what they were meant to be used for or what the were designed to be. I found that just looking at them without the rest of the outfit makes them loss a lot of their visual intensity. They seem so incomplete. Maybe this is why we see them as representational items in the West instead of spirits like the African cultures do. It also could be because we have a hard time believing that people can be taken over by spirits, but for whatever reasoning we need to see them as the African cultures see them. It may be different if we were to see the masquerades in their settings in Africa because I feel you can't get the complete effect of the masks and how big they are to the African cultures until you see them in their normal settings. Something about seeing something live and in person is different then seeing it through the TV screen. It's kind of like a concert, seeing it on TV is just not the same as being there in person, because if you are at the live performance you can get a vibe from the audience and the performer and with the TV you just can't, which I'm sure would happen if you were to see a masquerade live.

The DVD we watched that showed a Bwa masquerade was very interesting to me. Even though it's not the same as being their to see it, it still gave good insight to what a masquerade is, and what it looks like performed. I have always found the masquerades to be interesting but the more I learn about them the more I find them intriguing. One of the things that I learned that I didn't know about was the darkening of the masks, the more dirty and worn the masks are the more knowledge that masker has compared to the clean white mask who are obviously beginners or learners of masquerading. Also when a masker dies the mask maybe put in a shrine to represent that person. I would have thought that these were consider sacred in away and wouldn't be put in shrines to represent that person's life, since these masks are an embodiment of another spirit and not the human that performed it. But I can also understand why they would do this because it's obviously part of what that human being did during his life time.

Masquerades and masking are essentially a big part of African culture and have been for many years. Still very influential to their culture and are still taught to the children. It is one "tradition" that has with stood the globalization of the rest of the world around them. Even though masking has forced some change to the recent masking through competition for the tallest mask or the coolest mask from culture to culture or village to village. It still has the same meaning and sacredness that they have always had in the past. I'm sure from years on they will still be of the same importance to their society.