I admit there is something goofy and invasive about voodoo conversations. Not to mention images like the theatrical one at the top of this page. But… Few of us really know what we are talking about, voodoo-wise, and when we meet someone who does, it is like being body-snatched. We end up on an alien vessel being taught a language and a way of seeing that freak us out. The Voodoo thing you do, or you and I do, just lets us know we are visiting. We hope boarding a plane the heck out of wherever we are, will go smoothly.
That being said, it is actually quite fascinating. The least we can do — while shopping for a costume for Halloween, is learn something. The silliness of cartoon imagery. The stereotypes. The presumption about what a voodoo ritual is like. BUT… we might also delve just a little past the cartoon character version. The Ellie shoes women’s 253-sarah boot in the image to the left, is just good costuming.
By the way: see these articles about ghosts and meters, from our recent past:
A trip to the Caribbean is a trip to Africa
If you google the word “voodoo,” you’ll find there is a lot of information, not all of it concordant. The word is spelled in various ways: vodou, voudou, voodoo, vodun, vaudou. It means “spirit” and is derived from the language of Dahomey (Benin, in modern terms).
According to the BBC (article is here), about 40% of Benin is formally part of the voodoo religion.
But it gets more sobering: you’ll find the inextricable link between voodoo and slavery. Voodoo has roots, today, in the New Orleans area of Louisiana in the U.S., but it came to us from Haiti. And it came to Haiti from Africa via slaves brought to Haiti in the 16th and 17th centuries. Its contemporary influence on our culture is incalculable. Well, music of course. But… it can be argued to be reflected in artworks, such as Picasso’s 1907 masterwork, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Picasso himself wanted the painting to have a more plain moniker, such as “the Brothel of Avignon,” but a critic gave it the name we know it by today.
From Africa to Spain, to Matisse and Picasso in France
To Picasso, what he represented were actual prostitutes from a brothel in Barcelona — on Avignon street. But part of his inspiration was the Africanism in works by Matisse. But also it might be said it’s not important what Picasso thought he was doing. What he actually created was a modern summary space, as taken from classical painting, via the Impressionists, to a flat, stage-like denial of space.
Ways of seeing
It has been stated many times that les Demoiselles is “flat,” that it negates space, there is no way to look past the women because there is nothing to look at: everything is in a flat foreground. But painting is not representation: it is teaching us ways of seeing. Modes of perception, if you will. The paintbrush is a tool of cognitive science.
How does one arrive at the state where this happens? Everything is folded, delineated, cartoonish, with perspectives laid this way and that, as if the observer was distibuted, field-like. As if space were a crazy accordion or decks of cards floating on stage. It moves, it can be explored.
Slavery as cultural trope isn’t escaped that easily
The Africa allusions were more than casual. Both Matisse and Picasso (and before them, Gauguin, Corot, Tiepolo, Rembrandt, Titian) drew on African inspiration. The Renaissance madonnas. The richness of space that had not been appropriated by technology. A naturalism to which we all respond.
The power humans have when their relationship to nature is not broken is part of the imagery. Primitive, yes, but in a beautiful sense — as if the earth and tropics were speaking. The inescapable reference to slavery, of which the prostitutes were one expression. And are still.
Costumes, revelry, and dreams
No wonder we want to disguise ourselves, costume ourselves, become something else. These silly Halloween costumes speak to a deep need, one that is served through the calendar. Every year, if we want, we can be disguised, we can be unreadable. The Voodoo thing you do is important not only to you…
Link: a good short article on Demoiselles, at a Pablo Picasso website.
The InCharacter Wretched Witch Adult Costume and a couple of other things: