Friday, November 11, 2011

WCA and Individuality

This week in class we discussed a couple of articles that were heavily focused on individuality and we also had the treat of going to the Waterloo Center of the Arts to see their Permanent Haitian Art Collection. I found myself comparing the WCA's gallery to the Art Institute of Minneapolis, and I thought the way both museums showed their collection showed an interesting comparison.

At the Waterloo Center of the Arts, each section was focused heavily on what medium each piece was out of. All though the WCA's was focused on one culture and the AI of Minneapolis was a wider range of African Art, the fact that the WCA was sectioned off into different mediums I found oddly intriguing. I found the way that the art was displayed gave it more of a "craft" feel rather then an actual exhibition. I'm not sure why I felt this way, but I also think that when the exhibition was seperated into different mediums it didn't allow me to see the exhibition as a whole. My favorite part of the Haitian collection where the metal sculptures since they where fairly new to me and we hadn't studied them too much in class. I enjoyed the paint-like style of the sculptures, but being able to see them three-dimensionally really added to the depictions.

What I really wanted to focus on for my blog this week was the discussion we had on Tuesday. The question that got raised about Individuality and the oppression we face that helps bring it out. Well what if that oppression of a superior force wasn't there, who would we be? Would our individuality still be based upon negativity from contrasting ideas somewhere else, or would it allow us to truely be who we can be? Or maybe our negativite oppressed life is who we are supposed to be as artists. It's hard to wonder "what if" on this type of situation since I don't see it changing any time soon.Yet, this paragraph might just be my negativity towards the oppression that Rotimi Fani-Kayode faced in the articles we read.

Being able to view Art that we are studying helps us connect to what we are learning and helps us enhance our visual vocabulary. It's quite incredible that we have such a great Haitian Art collection in a smaller city, Waterloo, that we are able to take advantage of to help connect us.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

No can do my friend.

The three articles we read for this week all had a recurring theme, damned if you do and damned if you do not. With western ideas of what African culture is, it doesn't allow us to view African Art without a cloud around it. We have to question what African art is because of our impaired vision and what we think it should be.

The quote our group discussed was, "If I made work about being black, I would be considered simply an artist who made work about blackness; if I did not make work about being black, people would speak of me as a black artists who did not make work about blackness." Yinka Shonibare is saying that if he made work about being black, which the critiques want, they wouldn't like it. Yet if he chose not to make work about being black, then they would ask him why are you trying to hide your black background? His art can never just be about his art, since we have a stored idea of what African Art should be about.

Another quote I found that went along with our groups quote was, "He didn't, exactly, but I think he simply assumed that as a black African I would want to express and make art about my condition and about Africa. That I would want to make work about traditional African Art. And of course I've never actually been to an African village. I've only seen one on television." I think this quote helps explain what I have been talking about regarding our western's impaired vision. I have never been to Africa, and what I see on television is always regarding poverty and villages. Thus being said, my vision is impaired of what Africa is truly like. Africa has flourishing cities and not all are poverty stricken villages.

Two quotes that came up during discussion from our group was, "We directed to the existence of animal sacrifice and voodoo in the backgrounds of Ouattara or Moustapha Dime, rather than to their contributions to, and discursive place in, contemporary sculpture and installation art." The second quote was, "The most powerful of the classificatory inventions are the worlds "traditional" and "authentic", which become shorthand designations for 'good', and their negations 'non-traditional and inauthentic', which become synonymous with 'bad'." The reason I chose to share these two quotes together is the contradiction they share. The first quote states that instead of being focused on their contributions to sculpture and art, they are focused on the "authenticity" of their spiritual and religious practices. Therefore, they are asking for a 'non-traditional' form of art, which in the second quote is synonymous with 'bad'.

We should be able to view African art without being clouded by our impaired visions, and be able to see the individuality of the work. In Shonibare's work, rather then wondering why he is making work about blackness, we should be able to see the contributions he has made to sculpture. When critics want his work to be traditional, and the form of traditional they are asking for would not be traditional to Shonibare, how are the viewers able to view Shonibare's work with a clear vision? Shonibare expresses himself with things he knows, never could he create a traditional piece of work that has never influenced him throughout his life.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The effect of "others"

During this week we read two articles that both described the effect that other culture's have on their artwork and way of life in "Mami Wata Shrines" by Henry John Drewal and in "Imaging Otherness in Ivory" by Suzanne Blier. Both articles describe these cultures and the ways they go about fitting the "other" or foreign cultures into their visual systems so that they can understand the unknown culture more clearly. The Beni, Sepi, and Kongo cultures all go about different ways to fit the Portuguese, who are the "others", into their own framework so that they can understand their culture. Throughout trying to understand the "others", understanding the relationship between life and death and being able to go in between the two to control is shown in all three cultures in their art. 

In the Kongo, a visual aspect that Blier thinks is significant is the spiral symbol that is seen in textiles, on ivory, crowns, and on hats. To make sense of understanding the "other", the spiral symbol is very similar to that of the Crossroads and cross, which is seen in the culture of the Portuguese. These symbols show the path needed to take to the after life, while both symbols show the relationship the world we live in and the after world. I found the idea of the Kongo textiles being the map to the underworld a very intriguing idea. Being buried in the textiles, the only way to get to the underworld would be through the map on the textiles. The moment I heard this I thought of Greek mythology and the burial rituals they used. These rituals where very similar to the idea of putting the two coins on the eyes of the deceased, so you could therefore pay the boat keeper to be taken to the after life. This may be a little off topic, but I found the comparison to be very interesting.

In Drewal's article, it shows the opposite side of the story where we are the "others". Drewal uses an example of museums as, "Museums may be windows on other worlds, but they also reflect the creator (308)." The way we view African Art in museums shows the relationship we have with others and how we perceive ourselves. We view African Art in museums, but in this context we make it what we want it to be rather then that it is intended to be.

We are constantly being influenced by other cultures whether we realize or not, just as the Beni, Sepi, and Kongo cultures where influenced by the Portuguese. Everyday we use, eat, worship, and drink elements from other cultures. Drewal states, "that people intentionally or unintentionally use the objects of others to define themselves." The two articles both share the idea of trying to understand cultures. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

A week of Haitian Vodou!

To start this blog off, I am going to state that Haitian Vodou is a very deep subject, but after watching the video and reading Mama Loma I started to see connections to other African arts. The importance of spirits in Haitian Vodou is very similar to other masquerades and rituals practiced throughout Africa, which represents the adaptability and change of African Arts throughout different cultures. 

There are many Vodou spirits (Lwa) that are represented and embodied throughout the rituals. Gede is the trickster of spirits and is also associated with sexuality, children, and the ancestral dead. I found Gede to be very similar to that of Eshu, whom is the trickster of Yoruba masquerades. Azaka, whom is the Lwa of farming and agriculture, I noticed, has been represented in previous cultures as well. In Ndomo age grades, young boys are taught the process of agriculture and control. The importance of agriculture is evident in these two cultures, as well as many more. I also found Legba, the guardian of the gates and doorways in Haitian Vodou, to be very similar to that of Ashe. Both Legba and Ashe must be praised first before a Vodou Ritual or a Yoruba masquerade. Adaptability and change throughout African Arts I find to be very evident throughout Haitian Vodou Spirits and Spirits from other masquerades and cultures.

Erzulie Danto, a Lwa spirit of Haitian Vodou
After reading, I am not myself; I started to understand the importance of the embodiment of the spirit during masquerades and other rituals. This is very clear in Haitian Vodou, with the obvious embodiment throughout the ritual. The priestess turns into someone whom she is not, in order to maintain a connection and embody the spirit. I also saw the pride that they put into Haitian Vodou, and are proud to practice it. In our western culture, I feel that when you here "Vodou" you were taught to stray away from any such thing.  I've never heard of Vodou being a good thing in Western Culture, where as in Haiti it is very important to their life.

I noticed the effect that race has had on Vodou Spirits and Haiti as a country by itself. Mama Lola explains the impact that slavery had on Haitian Vodou. Mama Lola states that the shock of slavery evoked an importance on social interaction (238). Haiti as a county has been very influenced by the impact of race. Sharing an island with the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Dominican Republic are split by a river and distinguished by race. All of the ideas about race where formed about negative views that were directed towards Haiti. While unifying the country to have the greatest slave revolution of the world, Haitian Vodou makes sense of it all.

The effect of adaptability and race has impacted Vodou and Haiti as a country. Haitian Vodou spirits show the adaptability throughout African Arts, and also show how Arts can unify a culture. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yoruba Cosmology and Spiritual Belief

The Olumeye Altar Bowl and the Egungun Masquerades of Yoruba both show the cosmology and spiritual belief of the culture in opposite ways. The Olumeye Altar Bowl shows a great deal of respect to the God's that the Yoruba believe in, while as the Egungun Masquerade focuses on the respect of their ancestors. Both examples assist in showing a wide range of Yoruba cosmology and spiritual belief.

An example of the Europeans in the Egungun Masquerade.

The masks of the Egungun Masquerade.

During the Egungun Masquerade the spirit of the deceased ancestors comes to life in the dancers. The dancers are completely covered, while celebrating and communicating with their ancestors. European tourists are portrayed, comparing Western Civilizations actions to the actions of the Yoruba's ancestors. This part of the masquerade is used to provide moral aspect and honor the proper traditions of the Yoruba ancestors. The dancers that are mimicking the Europeans are not embodied, yet are providing a moral lesson to the viewers. The Egungun Masquerade shows the spiritual belief of the Yoruba culture through the embodiment and turning the dancer into a deceased ancestor. The respect for their ancestors is very important and is seen throughout the Masquerade.

Olumeye Altar Bowl, Olowe of Ise, Nigeria, C. 1925

The Olumeye Altar Bowl shows the other side of Yoruba Cosmology, which is the respect and representation of the Gods. There are several Gods in Yoruba Cosmology: Ashe, Eshu, Shango, and Ogun. Eshu, which is the God of Trickster, I believe to be represented in this Altar bowl. Seen underneath everything, Eshu is the God of money, sex, livelihood, and the crossroads. He is partially hidden symbolizing his trickery upon people. The importance of twins is also portrayed in this bowl. The bowl is shown with an elongated female figure, which is seen with a set of twins. Visona states that this altar bowl was probably meant for the altar of an Orisha (250). The offering of the bowl and its contents shows the respect that the Yoruba have for their Gods.
Both the Egungun Masquerade and Olumeye Altar Bowl show the importance of Yoruba cosmology and spiritual belief. With the wide range of Yoruba Arts, the Masquerade and Altar Bowl cover a wide range of ways to show respect to their belief and cosmology. Through their art they represent and show respect to what is significant. Both areas of art I compared show different ways of sharing the beliefs and cosmology of Yoruba through completely different art forms.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Comparing Jonyeleni and Cylindrical Head

For this weeks comparision, I will discuss the Jonyeleni figure from Bamana, and the Cylindrical Head from Ile-Ife.

The Jonyeleni Figure from Bamana is made out of wood and is 24" tall and is currently in the New Orleans Museum of Art. The Jonyeleni Figure was important for several reasons. It was used for age-grade young boys from ages 8-11 for learning about the opposite sex. Jonyeleni stands for "Pretty Little One of Jo", which reminds girls and elders that young men are searching for their brides. The crested forehead has been believed to be a reference to the importance of twins in the Bamana culture. It is believed that twins replicate the first human beings, and twins are believed to be living replicas of that wonderful event. Emphasis on the figure is of importance and this is shown through geometric and organized shapes.

 Jonyeleni Figure

The Cylindrical Head from Ile-Ife is from the Pavement Period of the 13th-14th century and is a Terra-Cotta ceramic. It currently is in the Museum of Ife Antiquities in Ife. This is an example of the abstract Pavement period style. This Terra-Cotta represents the ori inu, or the inner head. The ori-inu is complemented with the ori-ode, which is the outer head. These two concepts are very important to Yoruba thought. The abstract qualities relate to the spirits that people have, but not being able to be physically represented. How do you represent your inner soul? It's a simple answer, you can't. The only way to represent it is through the abstract quality of the Pavement period.

What inspired me about this comparision was what both objects where resembling and how they accomplish this. The Jonyeleni Figure from Bamana resembles a beautiful girl, by emphasizing the importance on the breasts, circular hips, and narrow cylindrical torso. They emphasize geometric, organized shapes to go about this. With the style being used, the female figure is obviously depicted. This representation of a female figure is meant to be the ideal female. Where as in the Cylindrical Head from Ile-Ife, the resemblance of your inner-self simply can not be resembled. Still, using the Pavement period they are able to represent the inner self through an abstract figure that relates to anyone. Both figures share the importance of resembling what is important to their culture. The common theme of twins and complementary spheres of being are both present in both figures. The crested forehead is a resemblance of the importance of twins in Bamana cultures, where as the Inner head, ori inu, and the outer head, ori ode, are important concepts in Yoruba. The abstract quality is complemented with the realistic outer self figure.

Both figures were made to resemble what is important in each culture. What is inspiring is the methods used to go about the resembling, and the style that must be used to acquire the meaning of each figure. The pavement period abstract quality versus the geometric and organized shapes to resemble the inner self and Jonyeleni was something I found very interesting.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I am not Myself: Week 5

Herbert Cole's essay, "I am not myself", I found helped me a lot in trying to understand what masking and masquerades are all about. Obviously, masquerades are very important to African culture and understanding the history, myths, and connecting them to areas we are studying is very important. I found the mythology on the origins of masking to be very intriguing. The puzzling theme of women having the first secrets of masks, and the actual fears that males have of female's reproductive powers. I thought this hypothesis was very interesting when relating it to the current day masquerades and how women are not usually allowed to partake in the dance. 

Representation and embodiment is addressed throughout the article as well as in class. Cole states, "What must be kept in mind is the fundamental idea behind every mask: it embodies a spirit." Understanding this message and relating it to "I am not myself" is a huge message about masquerades and masking in African arts. In our western culture, whenever we use masks we use them as a disguise. Many belief systems in Africa use the men to impersonate the spirits so that they can act in the human realm, turning their own self into the spirit. The masks are usually distorted, abstract, and exaggerated, but the intention of the mask is to represent the spirit rather then the actual object it is being based off of. The mask represents the purpose of the mask/dance, and the act of the dance is what embodies the spirit of the mask in the dancer and makes the spirit come to life.

Masking in Baule is a balancing act of forces and the basis beliefs about supernatural powers. Throughout the four acts of the Goli dance, it shows the progression from youthfulness to being a strong warrior. The Goli dance affects change through performing the dances about knowledge, leadership, and Baule values. It helps teach younger Baule children the values of their culture and their human existence.

The mask used for kplekple.

In Bamana, the education and initiation of youth into adulthood is changed through masking and controlling spiritual forces for the betterment of the community. In Bamana, young boys are associated into age groups and starts of with Ndomo. Ndomo affects change in the young boys by helping them understand the process of agriculture and control; both which are very important lessons to be learned early in life. After moving on from Ndomo, the age grade will enter Ci Wara. Ci Wara prepares the boys for their future roles as husbands and fathers, and pairs them with younger girls for them to become their partners. They learn to become successful farmers who can provide for their families. The masquerade helps prepare the young boys at an early age so that they can become the men that they are, and without it who knows who they would be.

Ci Wara Dance Crest

In Bwa, the masquerade helps ensure the renewal of life, regulate behavior, and also helps teach them morals to live by. The designs that are put onto the masks are much more then designs in Bwa. These designs symbolize what would be our ten commandments. The dance starts off with two monkeys acting up and causing evil, which helps teach a proper way to live. During the middle of the dance, the angry man regulates social behavior by attacking the crowd and initiating fear. Some of the Bwa's masks depict spirits and myths that helped create them. After a tribe when trying to steal their women ambushed them, a serpent asked for a mask in exchange for helping them out of their situation. They then made the mask for the serpent, which then helped them with finding their women. I thought the relation between the serpent mask, and the cloth that Nani wore is very similar. The strength required dancing with so much cloth, and to wear such a huge and tall mask is quite incredible. The Do Grass Masks help celebrate life and renew the forces of nature. Their power is so strong that it also helps human fertility. The change caused by the Bwa's masquerades help ensure their life and benefit humankind.

In these three masquerades, all three contribute to regulating behavior and affecting change. Cole's article describes the masking as creating a spirit and becoming someone else. Believing in the new and altered state, and becoming the spirit is absolutely fascinating.