Sunday, November 13, 2011

Waterloo Arts Center Adventure!

Well, to make a long story short, my visit to the Waterloo Arts Center was very interesting.  Since I have time to blog though, I'll give you the long story!  The only day I was able to visit the arts center was a week ago today(Sunday).  The Waterloo Arts Center isn't open on Mondays and I was gone the rest of the week for a conference.  Unfortunately though, I felt very sick on that Sunday.  I muscled up though and went anyway.  On the way there I unfortunately got even sicker and had to make a pit-stop outside of a bank(it was the closest place and I HAD to stop!) to, pardon me if this makes you queasy... throw up.  I couldn't hold it in!  After this little... incident... I felt much better and was able to proceed on to the arts center.  I still didn't feel excellent but I was able to make it through the exhibit.  While this may not be important to the arts center or Haitian Art, I feel the need to pre-curse my blog with this to explain why I, unfortunately, didn't get to spend as much time looking around as I would have liked.  Plus, I think it's really funny now looking back on it because I was throwing up in some random bushes... I feel really bad for that bank.

So, anyway, the biggest thing that I noticed was the detail that I hadn't seen before in the drapos.  Looking at them on the projector in class does no justice to them.  All of the intricate details with the sequins and beads is very impressive.  I brought a friend along with me and we kept marveling at how much time and effort that would need to be put into these.  My friend, who had never(knowingly) seen Haitian Art before asked me why they would put so much effort into these objects.  I felt very knowledgeable when I explained to her that these were religious objects used for rituals and honoring the Lwa.  

I personally enjoyed the sculptures from Haitian Art.  I'm someone who tends to be drawn to three-dimensional objects (interestingly enough since my emphasis is graphic design).  My friend and I both noticed the use of birds through most of these sculptures.  I was not able to remember what the birds signified and was unsuccessful in finding what they mean.  I do remember that the use of snakes often refer to Danbala.  Danbala is a deity that is often related with water and wisdom.  Crossroads are often used in Drapos as well, of course symbolizing the connection between the afterlife and this world.

As much as an "adventure" this trip was, I really was bummed that I was sick because I was not able to focus and appreciate the art as well as I would have liked to.  I have decided that in the future I want to go back to look at the Haitian exhibit as well as the rest of the arts center so that I am able to take the time that I would like to and absorb all the art has to offer.  Especially the kids area! That looked really fun.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Stereotyping and Art

Earlier this fall I took part in a diversity training.  I have taken place in a couple different diversity sessions before but in this past one we talked a lot about stereotyping.  The big idea that I learned from this training was that we all make stereotypes.  It's just a fact of life!  With all of the information our brains receive and intake we have to do something with all of the information.  We categorize, adapt(a reference to my previous blog) and stereotype everything.  Subconsciously or consciously, we do it.  It, however, is what we then do with these stereotypes that makes the difference.

I bring up this idea of stereotypes because this seemed to be an underlying theme within the three articles we read and discussed in class.  Artists, art and more specifically, in our case, African Art are always being stereotyped.  Each article, while not specifically focused on stereotyping, eluded to this idea different.

In the article African Art and Authenticity: A Text with a Shadow by Sidney Kasfir I focused on this quote, “The most powerful of the classificatory interventions are the words ‘traditional’ and ‘authentic’, which become shorthand designations for ‘good’, and their negations ‘non-traditional’ and ‘inauthentic’, which become synonymous with ‘bad’.” (Page 95).  Why do we take artwork(and plenty of other things) and deem them 'authentic' or 'traditional'?  In class my group discussed briefly about whether something is authentic or is it original.  Often times we place these terms on African Art.  Do they restrict us or guide our views about the work of art to assume that because it's 'traditional'?

The article by Olu Oguibe, Art, Identity, Boundaries: Postmodernism and Contemporary African Art the quote that struck me the most was this: “Clearly against his will, Ouattara finds himself repositioned in the frame as the object.  And though he is coerced to sketch the contours of this subject, to narrate himself and to trace the ethnography of his body, his is made to do so within confines defined by another.” (Page 19).  In this interview, Ouattara wanted to talk about his artwork but his interviewer kept wanting to talk about his past, family and where he was from as if it was the reason his art is the way it is.  While I personally believe that our past experiences have an effect on an individual's artwork, it's unfortunate that Ouattara is unable to explain himself without being stereotyped because he is from Africa.  

The last article, an interview with Yinka Shonibare, offered up a lot discussion in class.  Different groups discussed different quotes from the article.  One that stuck out to me when I was reading the article was when Yinka talked about how he has never actually seen an African tribe in real life and that he wasn't from one either.  Why then, do we just assume that he is from an African tribe just because he lived in Nigeria?  The quote that I chose to bring to class was when Yinka talked about his blackness.  “In Nigeria I was open to a lot of experiences: I was living in Lagos, a contemporary society, and I could watch American programs and just basically be a citizen of the world, show interest in many things simultaneously-I did not have to choose.  Then when I moved to Europe, to my surprise, I had to choose.  I believe that my blackness began when I stepped off the plane at Heathrow.  I did not have a notion or a concept of blackness until I stepped off the plane.” (Page 166).  Why was Yinka immediately stereotyped when he came to Europe?  Is this stereotype useful or not?  Many may say that this is harsh, but I would venture to say that stereotypes are useful ONLY when we use them correctly.  Correctly to me would be when we use them to categorize and understand others not as a hindrance but a useful tool.  When we understand others and are open to what they can offer we will then be open to many new learning experiences.

Friday, October 28, 2011


Adapting is was we do as people.  We naturally and un-naturally know how to adapt to other situations, ideas, strategies, peoples, etc.  Based on the two articles we have read this week and from our discussions in class that is the underlying theme that I have picked up on.  Within the Kongo, Beni and Sapi people's that is what they did.  They assimilated and appropriated images into their own cultures so it fit and made sense to them.

The articles talked about "others" and who they were.  In the first article, Imaging Otherness in Ivory: African Portrayals of the Portuguese ca. 1942 by Suzanne Preston Blier, the others were the Portuguese.  When the Portuguese were first introduced to these different cultures they were received, for the most part, pretty similarly.  The white skin, advanced technology, wealth and the facet that they came across the ocean all contributed to the assumption that they were ancestors and related to Olukun, the god of water, fertility and wealth.

The Portuguese, their looks and culture, were completely new to these African cultures.  How would you react if you encountered a new race, species, or alien race.  I am not sure about you, but I know that I would act similarly to these African Cultures.  I would feel the need to assimilate or adapt.  I would want(or need) a reason for this.  Would I consider this new something to be godlike? It is all unsure territory.  The reason I bring this up is to show that they were adapting to this new idea.  By the Portuguese coming across the ocean, the Kongo, Beni and Sapi cultures adapted this foreign idea and made it their own.

Because the Portuguese were then related to Olukun they were portrayed in art and objects similarly.  Symbols and animals were used to do this.  Olukun was often portrayed with sacred animals such as the leopard, crocodiles and mudfish.  Different objects were used such as ivories, salt cellars or plaques to represent the Portuguese with these symbols and ideas as well.

Since our class yesterday I have been trying to think of other ways we adapt in our culture today.  An example in class that was given was with food.  We have taken food from different cultures and then made it our own by fitting it to how we like and enjoy it.  Another example that we did not talk about in class that keeps coming to my mind is music.  New music is constantly being written all the time, but where does inspiration come from?  More often than not, we use ideas from other people and cultures.  I see this a lot in collaborations.  When are rapper joins with a country song to create a song a pretty interesting song comes from it.  While music is not a culture example I believe that it helps to portray how we adapt in our society.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Those Poor Chickens...

Well, I don't know about you guys but I was pretty darn shocked when we saw chickens' wings and legs being broken while they were still alive.  Along with the goat! I wasn't able to watch it.  It just freaked me out some!  This got me thinking though, about the normalcy that these rituals are for people who practice the vodou religion.  While this was very shocking for me and is something that pops in my head about this past week of class, another thing that I picked up was the relationship between the Haitian vodou religion and Catholicism.

As a practicing Catholic it is interesting to me that Catholic saints are used in other religions as well. I have not heard of this much before.  The way that these saints are handled is intriguing to me because they constantly change.  In the Catholic religion these saints stay the same all the time but in Haitian vodou they change to fit the times.  This is something I have noticed in other parts of vodou and other African cultures as well.  Rituals are changed to suit them as time goes on.

When watching the Divine Horseman there was a specific line that was brought up that struck me.  It said that the priest's responsibility(in Haitian vodou) was just as much important to the congregation as well as to the god's.  When  reading this, it seems obvious, right?  I think it is, but it is a new way to think about it.  The priest, who is a relation between the god and the congregation needs to equally serve and lead both.

One more thing that sparked my interest this week was that there was no need for masks.  Someone else mentioned it in their blog as well but with other African cultures a mask was needed for possession to take place but in Haitian vodou no mask is needed.  

In past classes I have noticed while our culture compared to different African cultures are very different they are in some ways similar.  This week continued that thought because of the relation of Catholicism and Haitian vodou.  We all interpret things differently though and we could really learn a lot from each other.  Diversity is so beautiful!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Egungun Masks

It's obvious that in the Yoruba Culture of Nigeria there is a strong presence of spirituality throughout.  You can see it within several of their objects and what we know as their art.  Their Egungun masks and masquerades are seething with spirituality.  These are seen as a chance for the living to communicate with the dead and also as a veneration of their ancestors.

When an Egungun masquerade is performed, the person under the mask(like many other cultures) takes on the whole personality of the spirit or ancestor.  When dressed in the mask/costume they are no longer themselves, but are the spirit fully and act like such.  These spirits and depending on the masks all act differently.  Sometimes, these masks are purely for entertainment while other times they are used to teach social norms to their culture.

An example that we discussed in class that I found very intriguing was the European Egungun masks.  I was surprised that while these costumes are considered some of our everyday outfits were considered to be much more spiritual to them.  These specific masks were used to teach the correct way to court and have a relationship between a male and a female.  At first, a performance is done based on how Europeans are too promiscuous and then the "correct" example is given.

Something else that I noticed about the Egungun masks was that when these are worn every part of the body needs to be covered including a person's hands.  Egungun literally means "power concealed" and it is said that these spirits have so much power that they need to be completely contained from everyone else.  The idea of having so much power probably seems foreign to most of us but this was/is a regular occurrence in the Yoruba culture.  

More objects and icons are used in many other ways to portray spirituality in the Yoruba Culture.  These Egungun masks are only one example and it is very clear how important of a role they play in their culture.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Comparing Heads.

Well, unfortunately I do not have pictures of the two objects I will be comparing but if you guys can't remember what I'm talking about I'm going to provide you the page numbers in our book! That way if you really want to look at the pictures you know where to go.

The funerary heads from the Akan Culture in Ghana are very intriguing to me.  I am not exactly sure why but there is something about them that I like.  These heads are made out of terracotta and are used in memory of the deceased.  They are portraits on the person they are in memory for but they are not exact replicas.  They actually are not descriptive of the deceased at all except for a few defining details like scarification or hairstyles.  They were meant to be more of a generalization.

The memorial heads or Ori Ode from the Ile-Ife in Nigeria are also created in memory of the deceased.  These heads can be made of either terracotta or brass.  These memorial heads are more realistic than the funerary heads from the Akan Culture.  Features, such as the lips and eyes, are made idealistically but they are still made to represent the deceased.  Often these heads are made with striations on the face.  It is unsure if these are to symbolize scarification or if they are for aesthetic reasons.

Both of these heads could have been placed on a full size body to give it more symbolism.  However, this was not the case with all of them.  They could also be placed on altars or simply just paraded around without bodies at all.  These would then be placed with the buried or next to the graves or tombs.

Before blogging I didn't realize how similar the idea of the memorial heads would be.  Both cultures(as well as the majority of cultures) just want to remember their deceased and it's just interesting to see the ways in which things are similar and are different.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Well, I feel like there is a lot I could talk about this week.  We covered what I feel is a lot of information in class.  All of which I find interesting.  Masks, while very prevalent in African Cultures, are also seen in other countries around the world.  We may not be able to relate with as much meaning as some African Cultures have with these masks but we can relate by having our own masquerades and costumes.

When we were watching the video in class on Thursday I was reminded of our mascots we see in our culture.  When we go to sporting events we see mascots who dress up to entertain the crowds and similarly we can see clowns when we go to parties.  The monkey mask in the Bwa peoples was what initially sparked the similarities in my mind.  The masked individuals entertain the crowds by acting as the mask they are wearing.

African Cultures take these masquerades to a whole new level but believing that they actually become the spirit of the mask.  They perform however they need to based on what the mask symbolizes.  Even with this being a form of entertainment, it is still considered a sacred ritual that must be performed.

Another aspect that we talked about this week that interested me was from the Baule and Bamana peoples.  They each have dances or groups separated by age.  How is this unlike our organizations we have here in our culture?  I don't see much difference besides the dancing and masks but in some cases that may not be far off.  I can relate closely to the Ndomo because the way we described it in class was similar to boy scouts.  Having gone through boy scouts when I was younger I understand the importance and need to teach our youth how to grow up to be outstanding citizens.

It's so interesting to me to see how much our culture compared with different African Cultures are so different yet, surprisingly to me, so similar in ways.  We all have this inherent need and want to be good and that seems to show in different ways through our cultures.