Conflict
and
Cooperation

Episteme and Methods between Art History, Art and ­Ethnology in the Performative Pictorial Practices of Vodun

About

Introduction

The SNF project “Conflict and Cooperation. Episteme and Methods Between Art History, Art and Ethnology in the Performative Pictorial Practices of Vodun” aims to investigate aesthetic aspects of transgression and revaluation in the history of research on Vodun. Looking back from today’s practices and visualizations of Vodun into the 20th century it intends to extend academic and artistic methods of research while questioning established systems of knowledge and valuation both in art history and ethnology.

Team

Prof. Dr. Bärbel Küster, Institute of Art History, University of Zurich (Principal Investigator)
Dr. Dora Imhof, Investigator in Art History
U5, Artistic Research
Niklas Wolf, M.A., Investigator in Art History

GUEST SCHOLARS
Zainabu Jallo (January-March 2022), Investigator in Visual Anthropology

PROJECT PARTNERS
Prof. Dr. Philip Ursprung, Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta), ETH Zurich
Prof. Dr. Thomas Reinhardt, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, LMU Munich

FUNDED BY
Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)

Cultural background, academic approach

The term Vodun refers to religious practices, spirits and objects that produce dynamic forms of knowledge, history, healing, or jurisprudence. It involves ritual performance, sound and powerful visualizations. Vodun was and continues to be practiced and developed particularly in West African countries and Afrodiasporic contexts. Through the routes of the Black Atlantic especially, the religious practice established itself in the Caribbean and the Americas. In Haitian Vodou, Candomblé, Santería etc. religious ideas and practices were adapted and further developed to local contexts, partly in confrontation, and partly in connection with Western religions. In West Africa, in Haiti and many diasporic contexts, Vodun is currently part of new critical debates; it is used educationally in digital spaces and re-appropriated in works of art negotiating aspects of identity, alterity and remembrance.
Historically Vodun posed challenges to anthropology, art history and artistic practices. In the second half of the 20th century, artists like the filmmaker Maya Deren sought to develop new approaches and a deeper understanding of Vodun to decidedly overcome exoticism. Deren’s approach merging methodologies of art and cultural anthropology/ethnology through the media of film, photography, and text was exceptional.
While Deren was a precursor in many respects, today’s concern is in how far her exocentric and Western approach can be reconciled with today’s artistic and academic approaches to Vodun in West Africa and Haiti. The conflicts arising from such diverse perspectives –African, Afrodiasporic and European– will be discussed through cooperative research practices during the project. They give rise to key questions: How is West-African practice of Vodun today connected to other locations? What is the role of different media – as virtual formats or museum spaces– concerning aspects of remembrance and identity? How are objects and images involved in performative practices of the religion? How do processes of decolonialization and global relations, new conditions of artist’s travels, and object biographies affect new forms of practice and visualization? How to interpret the fact that some Vodun practices themselves may integrate and invert exoticisms today? These questions will be examined through different methods from the field of art and visual studies, art history, cultural anthropology/ethnology. They include dialogical formats such as oral history, performative art history, artistic research, and cooperative knowledge practices.

Projects

Out of Focus

Dr. Dora Imhof, U5

The project Out of Focus. The artistic-ethnographic practice of Maya Deren and Leonore Mau investigates two historical positions of artistic engagement with Vodou in Haiti. In a collaboration between an art historian and artists we reexamine their work and ask how it can be productive for contemporary discourses on artistic research, questions of representation, the uses of archives, and (photography) ethics.

Voduns Visuals (working title)

Niklas Wolf

Vodun are part of complex spiritual world-views, connecting and balancing the sacred with the secular, the ancestral worlds with the ones of the living, humans with nature. Such local and global supra temporal connections manifest in specific ways of displaying and performing Vodun.

Material Expressions of West African Spirituality in the Americas: Transatlantic Continuities in Haiti

Zainabu Jallo

Within the various modes of West African Vodun, spiritual faith is expressed through a wide range of material forms. Its doctrinal system and spirituality are founded upon the belief that the immanent characters of divinities are accommodated within natural elements and the material world.

Team

Bärbel Küster

Dora Imhof

U5

Niklas Wolf

Zainabu Jallo

Contact

University of Zurich

University of Zurich
Institute of Art History

Rämistrasse 73
CH-8006 Zurich

Phone +41 (0)44 634 28 31
info@vodun-epistemologies.ch