Friday, November 11, 2011

visit to Waterloo Center for the Arts

For our blog we were suppose to go to the WCA (Waterloo Center for the Arts) and write about the art that we had seen in the Bahamaian Art exhibition and the Haitian Art collection. Unfortunately, I was unable to see all of the Haitian Art and none of the Bahamaian Art exhibition. I went to the WCA on Thursday morning and they had already taken the work down for the Holiday Arts Festival. However, I did go there over the summer and I saw the permanent Haitian art collection.  At the time, I didn't know anything about Haitian Art.

From my summer visit I remember seeing large colorful and ornate, sequined fabric pieces. After taking this class I now know these works are Drapos.  Drapos are religious flags or banners embellished with imagery and colors relating to spirits in Vodou religious worship. The sequins relate to spirits (lwa) in the Haitian Vodou practice.  I also remember seeing the Veve of Ezili Freda, it was extraordinary. At the time I had no idea who or what it was, all I thought was that it looked very labor intensive, and ornately embellished, but I didn’t know what all of the images represented. I definitely also remember seeing the painting with the female baby with Madonna/Ezili Danto because I had such a hard time understanding it. At first it looked like a painting of the Madonna and Christ child but I knew it wasn’t because the child was female. I remember thinking that perhaps it was a portrait of important people depicted as if they were of religious significance.  Taking this class has helped me to learn about the images I had seen. After reading the article by Karen McCarthy Brown on Mama Lola and the Ezili, it is clear to see that the images of Veve of Ezili Freda and female baby with Madonna/Ezili Danto are representations of the Ezili, which are the Haitian ideas of the power of women influenced by Yoruba and European religions to the Haitian culture.

This class has given me the knowledge to examine and understand Haitian Art and to understand the links of European and African culture on Vodou and how aspects of Vodou are portrayed in Haitian Art. I can't wait to go back to the WCA to look at the rest of the works of art from the Bahamaian exhibition and the Haitian collection with a more knowledgeable, and conscious perspective.

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Others" and interculturation

The articles this week discussed the idea of “others,” as meaning foreigners and how their presence influenced African cultures. In, “Imaging Otherness in Ivory” by Suzanne Blier, she describes the “others” as being foreigners, namely the Portuguese embarking on new territory and how they are received by the African cultures. The article discusses the reaction and receptivity the arrival of the Portuguese had on the Kongo, Sapi, and Benin cultures during the 15th century.  These African cultures related the Portuguese to their spiritual beliefs of the underworld and the undead. The Kongo interpreted the Portuguese Christian crosses with their own symbol of the crossroads which is the the entrance to the spiritual realm. The Portuguese were often portrayed by the Sapi culture in ivory carvings such as horns and saltcellers. The Benin often depicted their carvings of the Portuguese with mudfish because of the relation it has with Olokun, the god of the sea and the undead.  In, “Mami Wata Shrines” by Henry John Drewal, the article discusses how the shrines were compiled of borrowed Hindu chromoliths and Indian objects, they used these objects to create their own spiritual beliefs and incorporated it into their culture. Both of these articles discuss the relationship between the Portuguese and the African cultures and the influences they had on each other. It is important to understand the "cross-cultural pollination" which occurred as a result of the Portuguese arrival in Africa. 

Friday, October 14, 2011


After studying Haitian Vodou, it is clear to see the influences of African and European cultures.  Vodou spiritual practice of beliefs blended of Catholicism brought by the European (French) slave owners and the Yoruba religious beliefs brought by the African slaves from Yorubaland (parts of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo—known by Europeans as “the slave coast”). Women are deeply respected in all of these cultures and beliefs. The Yoruba have a respected term for women: “Our Mothers” this is a term used for all female ancestors, female deities, and elderly living females. The Yoruba show respect toward many deities (Orisha). Examples of Orisha are Orunmila and Eshu, they act as the mediators between humans and deities. A diviner, babalawo, is a mediator between humans and Orunmila.  In Catholicism (a monotheistic religion), Mary (the Madonna), is viewed as the mother of Christ and is considered a saint. Priests and Saints are represented as mediators between humans and deity. In Vodou, there are no deities, nor saints.  Erzulie Dantor is a respected female spirit (lwa).  Haitians viewed imagery of the Madonna because of the catholic slave owners. The Haitians saw the Madonna as Erzulie Dantor: a strong female spirit usually holding the Christ child, however, the child may be depicted as female portraying the strength of female roles in Vodou. The Erzulie Dantor is thought to be the protector of children and is sometimes depicted with scars on her cheek due to wounds from battle in the revolution protecting children from harm. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

masks, masking, and masquerades

When I previously looked at African masks I had many questions about why they look so abstract, what do the designs mean, why do some look like animals, and why are they worn.  This week in class, all of my questions were answered.

The Baule, Bamana, and Bwa cultures incorporate masks into their spiritual practices by performing masquerades. Different kinds of masks are worn to represent important values and ideas expressed in masquerades. Leaf masks are made of organic materials and symbolize life cycles, growth and fertility. They are usually burned after wearing in a dance. Plank masks are carved to represent a spirit whether it is a serpent, a bush pig, or a “crazy-man.” The spirit of the creature the mask represents is believed to embody the dancer.  Owl eyes are a design incorporated on the masks to symbolize “seeing” into the spiritual world. Masks are also viewed as necessary mediators between this world and the spiritual world. Cole’s article explains that there is not a direct translation for the word “mask” in African languages. Instead, they are called “head spirit” or “face of the forest spirit.” 

 The serpent mask is used by a family of a village to honor a serpent and being successful in courtships after an old story about how the young men of a village were saved by a serpent after being attacked by another village that they were trying to get wives from.
They use the colors red, white and black. Black and white checker designs are symbols for knowledge and teaching because they represent the hides used to sit on. The white hides are newer and used by the young men and the black hides are discolored from being in the rafters for many years and used by the older men. The dances are often celebratory, and the masquerades are used to demonstrate acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

It was interesting to learn that the masks are owned by families and the young men of the families are the dancers wearing the masks at the masquerades. Masquerades are dances with lots of interaction between musicians and the dancers and the audience. After a masker has danced, an old man (usually the previous owner of the mask) will dance to show the young men how the dance is to be properly executed and to boast of his skill as a dancer when they were younger. A dancer masked as a bush pig will kick up a bunch of dirt while dancing and try to sit next to the other dancers or audience members, and the other members are to move away from the bush pig.  Women have a large part in masquerades, although they are not masked, they still dance and actively participate in directing the dancers.  The masker as the “crazy-man” has his wife chase him around and try to calm him down as he lashes out at the audience and dancers by acting in an anti-social behavior.

The most important thing I learned is that we cannot separate the meaning of the masks from the importance of the context the masks are used in. We cannot study the masks without studying the meanings of the symbols of the culture they are from nor the dances they are used for.  The performance and idea of the spiritual relationship between the masks and the dancers are the most important aspects of the masks. I was very surprised to learn that underneath all the raffia the dancers hold the mask and usually with their teeth. It’s amazing to think of the strength, balance, and skill used to dance and hold a large mask. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

cross-cultural pollination

After reading “Radiance of the King” by Donald Cosentino, I believe that the paintings are examples of “ambassadors of cross-cultural pollination.” These paintings are praise portraits and visual narratives on flour sack canvas; the style of painting originated from 90’s Ghanaian Pop artists.  These new paintings where Barack Obama is the central figure were portrayals of the relationship of Ghanaian artists’ ideas of Barack Obama from what they had heard and seen about him through the media and also their own interpretation of their thoughts of who he is and their “yearnings” of what they want him to be. The paintings were then collected and brought to the Ernie Wolfe Gallery in West Los Angeles, California. These paintings are clear representations of "cross-cultural pollination" due to their content.
Other art that would fit into this category are the Ghanaian Akan textiles of adinkra which feature the andinkra stamps of President Obama, or President John F. Kennedy, and also the wax resists featuring modern technology such as buses and cell phones. These textiles are constructed in a traditional way, but incorporate subjects of modernity. West African funerary art is also influenced by Christian mausoleums and graveyards by placing African sculptures as the headstone or using coffins that are animal or object shaped. 

Friday, September 9, 2011


In class we learned about different techniques of creating textiles such as Woven (Kente and Togodo/Adanuvo), Wax resist (Batik, Adire, Adinkare, and fancy wax-print), Tye-Dye, and Mudd resist.  Nani Agbeli is an artist from Ghana and showed us some of his culture through Batik, lecture, performance, and music.  Thanks to Nani, we were able to learn how to create Batik first hand. We learned step by step how to print a design onto fabric using wooden stamps of Ewe and Asante symbols and hot wax, then we colored the fabric using dye.  I am very excited about learning this process. I was also surprised at how much labor it was to create one small piece! Nani also has a long history of performance art in music and dance through his family. His interest started when he was 5 years old.  Nani gave a performance using instruments and dance movements from Ghana. His dance movements were inspired from war and battle.  He also taught us some movements inspired from different kinds of African dance.  Overall, I feel that my ideas of African art and culture are greatly enriched due to what we have learned from Nani. I enjoyed doing the Batik project it was a lot of fun and really interesting.

Friday, September 2, 2011

When I thought about taking the Arts of Africa course I realized that I knew almost nothing about it. I knew a little about Egyptian Art, but that is so small in comparison to the size of Africa. In our first class meeting we were asked to discuss our thoughts on African Art. My first thought was that Africa is a very large, HUGE, place filled with lots of diversity in culture, religion, and beliefs. So African Art must reflect the differences and similarities to other African Art depending on the place its location. I also tried to imagine African Art and thought perhaps the older more traditional art might reflect some similarities to Native American Art.  Yet there would be even larger differences to contemporary African Art.

In our first two weeks of class we learned a lot about the Dogon Art and people. The use traditional practices of dance partly for their heritage and culture, but also to entertain tourists. Some of their artwork such as the wood carved sculptures used in their masks and headgear for their dances are not thought about as art to the African people, but rather as a key component in a necessary piece of their costume, and more of a job or skill than an object of beauty.

After these first two weeks of class I realize there is a lot to discuss about African Art. All of the architecture, costumes and masks, carved figures, pottery, sculptures, and clothing/fabric, and performance art really seems overwhelming to think about.  I'm very excited to learn more about African Art as the course continues.