Friday, November 11, 2011

Too Quick to Judge

I was planning on visiting the Waterloo Arts Center today, on my day free of classes, I did not even factor in that it might be closed due to Veteran’s Day, so as many of the other students in the class, I was not able to see the collection in person.  I did however look at the online collection on the WAC website, but that also made it a bit more difficult to complete the scavenger hunt.  Although the overall effect of viewing the artwork online is much different than that in person, I still found it to be quite interesting.  Due to the fact that I did not actually see the Haitian collection, I am going to discuss the articles we read in class in my blog rather than the WAC.

In class we discussed two articles, Eros & Diaspora by Kobena Mercer and Traces of Ecstasy by Rotimi Fani-Kayode, both of which focused on Fani-Kayode’s work and what it portrays.  One of the main topics we discussed in class was racism, how it has been seen throughout generations, but more importantly the new form of racism that is seen today.  Racism, or some form of it, is involved in our lives every day, whether we realize it is or not.  It may not be as out in the open as it used to be, but regardless, it is still there.  We talked in class about how the new form of racism is how we act as if it is not there and ignore it, while that might also be the case, I believe racism in today’s world is something different.  

For an example, the first week in our class, we were asked to write down what came to mind when we thought of Africa.  Many of the answers involved words such as safaris, masks, dry grasslands, poverty, and even AIDS.  This has been very eye-opening to me throughout the entire semester.  It is easy for people to simply categorize others and often pre-judge them as well.  This to me is the new form of racism.  Most people are too quick to judge others based on past thoughts and ideas.  

Fani-Kayode states that “an awareness of history has been of fundamental importance in the development of my creativity.  The history of Africa and of the Black race has been constantly distorted.”  Fani-Kayode has often been seen as an outsider because of his race, origin and sexuality.  His work is often homoerotic which has been controversial among viewers.  Why are they made uncomfortable?  It is often not because of what is actually being depicted in his work, but rather the fact that it is outside of the viewer’s comfort zone.  It is easy for someone to quickly become against something when it is different than what they are used to.  Fani-Kayode’s art is an example of this.  I think that instead of seeing his work in a negative way, we need to open our eyes and realize what it is teaching, or rather showing us. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

"art" - vs - "artifact" - vs - "authentic"

After reading all three articles for this week, and then reading them again, and some parts I read for even a third time, I think I was able to understand what each author was discussing, although talking in groups during class helped to clear many things up as well.  It was interesting to see how the people in my group had similar thoughts, but also very different thoughts as well.  We all wondered why there is a line in defining authenticity, and that lead us to questioning what authenticity is.  As a group we also discussed who determines whether or not something is authentic, would it be the creator or the spectator.  

Going along with this idea is a quote that stood out the most to me; it was in Kasfir’s article titled African Art and Authenticity: A Text with a Shadow. The quote states, “Prior to the twentieth century, African artifacts were not ‘art’ in either African or Western eyes.”  This quote in itself brought up so many questions for me, the main one being why are objects from African culture, both today’s and historically speaking, seen as art rather than just part of history.  Many of these items we look at as being “art” are either simply everyday objects or religious pieces.  I compared it to the idea of other cultures seeing the American flag as art although we see it as something in our everyday lives.  Another example to compare it to would be for the Christian religion, why is the Bible or other religious items not seen as art?  So in the eyes of those other than Americans, are objects from our own culture seen as “art” or “authentic?”

There was also a quote from the interview with Yinka Shonibare that was brought up during class that I particularly liked.  Yinka states, “One has expression, but the artist can never be as sure as the critic, because the artist is skeptical by nature, so that what is expressed is always contradicting itself.  In other words, my work occupies the space of contradiction.”  I interpreted this as artists know that there is always going to be someone that does not like their work, so do you make the work to satisfy the viewer, or do you make it to satisfy yourself.  I think that this is very important in the lives of many artists; I believe that we should make work for ourselves rather than conforming to the ideas of others.  Art is not meant to have holds or barriers.  In the last part of the quote Yinka talks about contradiction.  It is as if he knows what critics will say but proceeds to make his art the way he wants anyway.  In my opinion, there is no way to please anyone, so pleasing yourself is most important.  

Yinka also talks about the fabric he uses for his work and the way people judge his work base on what they see. “In the 1970’s, too, progressive Afrocentric political movements had reappropriated the fabric, making it a symbol of African culture and nationalism – so some people simply assumed that I was using it in some kind of naïve expression of my own Africanness.”  This quote helps to bring all the articles together.  The fact that people look at Yinka’s work and immediately make the connection of the fact that he uses that fabric is to show is own Africanness is completely wrong.  We are often too quick to judge what we see based on prior thoughts and assumptions.  I will admit, when I first began this class I thought of the continent of Africa as safaris, and people in poverty.  So seeing this quote really opens my eyes on how uneducated and pre-judgmental I was, which then makes me think of how others look at me.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The affect of "others"

 In the Mami Wata cult, the others are seen as “foreigners,” more specifically Europeans, Americans, and Indians are included in this, or anyone over-seas.  Both the Mami Wata essay by Drewal and the Imaging otherness in Ivory by Blier discuss the roles that “foreigners” play on groups of people and how they portray what they see and learn from them into their lives.  

All of the different groups of people mentioned in both essays seem to use similar strategies for dealing with interculturation.  As quoted by Drewal, “people intentionally or unintentionally use the objects of others to define themselves.”  This is very important when it comes to the way the people in the essay reacted to “others.”  They embraced the situations they were faced with rather than rejecting them.  They took what they were given and made it their own.   

For example, the Sapi people that Blier discussed took what they saw, and heard about of the Portuguese and applied it to their artwork.  Although at times the Portuguese were only seen by the Sapi for a brief moment or not even at all, they took what they learned and used it.  One example of this is the saltcellar, in particular, the one that is in the Seattle Art Museum, which was a gift of Nasli and Alice Heeramaneck.  It is an egg shaped saltcellar, which is connected to the earth being a primitive egg where life is originated.  The seated position of the figure at the top of the saltcellar is also significant because it makes references to the tradition of burying the deceased in a seated position, sometimes even in a chair.   

Animals also play an important part in these cultures.  In this piece there are crocodiles around the egg shaped portion, they are usually seen her on the saltcellars or climbing around the base.  The crocodile is seen as a bringer of wealth, and those seen with supernatural powers are able to transform themselves into a crocodile.  Crocodiles are connected to the Portuguese for the fact they are powerful, associated with wealth, and also with water.  In many of these cultures, they take what they see and learn from “others” and make it relevant in their lives.  This is important in linking cultures around the world, whether in the fast or continuing it through to the future. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Vodou...not to be confused with voodoo

When I first saw the section on Vodou, I simply thought that it was a simple spelling error.  I quickly learned that Vodou is much different than the voodoo that we as Americans are familiar with.  Vodou is the main religion of Haiti with more that 80% of Haitians practicing it.  It is also much more than just being possessed, which is also much different in the Vodou religion than what we think of.  Haitians also never refer to the spirits as gods; to them they are much more than that.  The Haitian Vodou religion is similar to African beliefs in the ways that they must establish crossroads and deities play protective roles.

Mama Lola is a Vodou priestess that has a strong relationship with two female Iwa, both go by the name Ezili.  Mama Lola’s main spirit is Ezili Dantor, who is known as the woman that bears children.  Haitian women are known for being strong because the father is usually absent.  She must care for herself and her children on her own.  Ezili Dantor is a member of the Petro pantheon and is connected with what is hot, fiery, and strong.  Mama Lola’s also serves Ezili Freda, which is the sister of Ezili Dantor.  Freda is a white spirit and part of the Rada pantheon, which are recognized by their sweetness and even tempers.  Freda’s identity comes from her relationships with men, she also loves jewelry and expensive clothes.  The spirits are often reflective of real Haitian situations; they also show them for what they are rather than what they should be.  This is important because it keeps life real for Haitians rather than allowing them to idealize their lives, this is especially important because Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  This is not me implying that Haitians should not have hope for a better life, they should.  It is more along the lines of if the spirit brings them to a perfect situation in a perfect world, it makes coming back to the reality of their situation that much harder. 

Haitian art very much pertains to the spirits and the influence they have.  Some examples of Haitian art are vèvè, which are often drawn with corn dust, and often each spirit has their own.  Vodou altars are also another form of art, while Haitians might not directly correlate them with art; the various objects that make up the altars are all part of their artistic culture.  Depictions of the Ezilis are also very common.  For Haitian people, the main focus in their lives is on their religion of Vodou, through the various spirits is where they receive their strength, knowledge, and even advice. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yoruba spirituality

Spirituality is something that is seen in almost every region of Africa, it is especially important to the Yoruba people.  One way that the Yoruba people communicate their spirituality is through their visual culture.  Although most of their works of art convey their spirituality, some in particular do very well.  For example, their divination bowls have many different iconographic elements that portray spirituality.  Another piece of art from the Yoruba that shows spirituality are the Gelede masks, which celebrate the women of their culture. 

The divination bowls are used by a diviner when performing a divination, and they represent two cosmos.  These two cosmos represent the living world and the other world.  All of the divination bowls are different, but still have similar elements.  These elements are for more than just decoration; they are significant in conveying important Yoruba beliefs.  A specific divination bowl is the Olowe of Ise and it includes many of these elements, such as non-proportional bodies, geometric patterns, and women dancing in a circle at the top of the divination bowl.  Not all these elements need to be included to make it a divination bowl, but most of the time they are in these. 

Another piece from the Yoruba culture are the Gelede masks.  These are used to celebrate all older women or, “Our Mothers,” of this culture.  These masks are wooden super-structures that look like females.  Although they represent women, they are always danced by men.  Lots of fabric is used to make these masks, and they are always bright colored.  The dances performed when wearing these masks showcase the good and the bad of a society.  The chest plates that are worn emphasis the woman’s breasts.  Many of the Gelede masks showcase what that particular women did to make a living, such as a market basket that would honor a woman that did well at market.  Both the Gelede masks and the divination bowls represent spirituality of the Yoruba people and are important aspects of their culture.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Comparing cultures

When looking at African art, although there are many different styles between various regions.  They all seem to have some commonalities.  For example, when comparing the Mossi biiga and to the Oni heads there are both similarities and differences between the two.  They are both sculptural representations of someone, one be abstract while the other is extremely naturalistic. 

The biiga are made by the Mossi people located in Burkina Faso.  Biiga are abstracted fertility dolls.  While someone looking at it for the first time might not know exactly what the doll represents, it is easy to tell that it is a figural sculpture.  The breasts are extremely exaggerated and some might think they are arms extended forward.  The breasts are massaged with palm oil to encourage lactation.  Along with the enlarged breasts is the protruding belly button which also represents fertility.  The scars on the dolls emphasis the idea of a mature woman, which in the Mossi culture is one that has given birth to a child.  Another aspect of these dolls is that they are often an idealized toy for younger girls, comparable to our culture’s Barbie dolls. 

In comparison the Oni heads are from the Ile-Ife people, located in Yorubaland.  These are sculptures of heads, usually from the neck up.  They are most often used on altars, but are also placed on wood mannequins at ornate funerals and dressed in decorated garments.  Oni is the term for king.  These heads are very naturalistic and often quite detailed compared to the many other sculptures we have studied.  There are many common characteristics to these heads, such as the almond shaped eyes.  Another item that is often seen on these heads are sea items, which are regalia items for the Ile-Ife people.  Similar to the biiga, the Oni heads also have scarification marks.  

Although the Oni heads from the Ile-Ife people and the biiga from the Mossi people are visually very different, they are both similar in the respect that they represent something very important to each of those people.  Fertility and ancestral remembrance are very important to many of the people in various regions in Africa, they all are represented in their own way. 

Friday, September 23, 2011


Masquerades are a big part of African culture, for the Bwa people in particular masking is very important.  Cole’s essay about masking was very interesting and taught me a lot as well.  It discussed every part of the masking process from making the mask through to the dancing of these masks.  Cole stated, “Africans are most concerned with the entire costumed character including its dances and songs, not just the mask or headpiece.  I found this to be important especially because when you see masks in museums it is usually just the headpiece.  In order to fully understand the meaning of masking you must also know about both the rest of the costume and the dances and songs performed while wearing them. 

One thing I found interesting was the Bwa people and their masking traditions.  Both men and women participate in masking.  In some African cultures, women are not able to be included but for the Bwa people they are able to dance, speak, and touch the masks.  One of the reasons women are able to participate is because the masks are owned by families not secret societies.  There are ways that women can participate in masking even if they cannot actually be part of the performance.  In Cole’s essay it says that women usually help make the costumes and at times even give items from their own wardrobe.

Cole also discussed the making of these masks.  I liked how he brought in the ancestral aspect of the masks and also the process of making them from generation to generation.  One thing that sculptors do is go off of an idea rather than just carving the exact thing they are depicting.  For example, while a mask might be representing a monkey, it may not be an exact replica of one.  When making masks throughout generations the change is gradual and very slow.  This is because sculptors create their masks off of the memory of their ancestor’s masks.  The masks also represent the change and influences brought by other cultures throughout the years. 

I really enjoyed watching the video because we got to watch the masks be danced rather than just seeing images of them, which taught me a lot more and was a lot more meaningful.  I liked watching how the maskers interacted with the audience.  It was as though everyone was a part of the performance.  For example, the monkey maskers harass the audience and make them laugh to entertain them.  The crazy man also acts out onto the audience keeping them alert and paying attention to the performance.  Elderly men, often the owner of the mask, would come out and dance after the masker was done to show how that particular mask was supposed to be danced.  The many different animals depicted all had different meanings, some good, and others bad.