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Conflict and Cooperation / Archive by category "Notes"
Talk Niklas Wolf KNIR Vodun’s Visuals

Talk Niklas Wolf KNIR Vodun’s Visuals

In February 2024 Niklas Wolf participated in the international workshop „Missionary Material Assemblages and the Mission of Museums: The Spirit on Display“ held at the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome (KNIR). 

The workshop was organised by Ana Rita Amaral, being part of the „Religious Matters in an Entangled World“-Project at Utrecht University (Birgit Meyer et al.) and focused „(…) on the past and present entanglements between Christian evangelisation and the manifold practices associated with making collections and arranging them in museums and exhibitions“, including visits to the Vatican’s Missionary-Ethnological Museum, now called the Ethnological Museum Anima Mundi as well as the Museo della Civiltà “Luigi Pigorini”.

Giving a talk on “The Museum as Shrine. The Shrine as Museum?” „Niklas Wolf (University of Zürich) spoke about his research on ‘Vodun’s Visuals’, focusing on terminology and display, within a series of shrines and museums in Ghana and Germany. Niklas elaborated on the spatial settings, often shrines with rich ‘pictorial programs’ on the walls, where Vodun can live in ‘tangible form’ and ‘where they are treated, fed and interacted with’, practices that approximate such spaces to museums. The latter, in turn, can sometimes accommodate the reinstallation and display of shrines and altars, raising questions about spiritual efficacy, aesthetic contemplation, and the nature of the practices that take place both in shrines and museums.“

see: https://religiousmatters.nl/missionary-material-assemblages-and-the-mission-of-museums-the-spirit-on-display-workshop-report-by-ana-rita-amaral/; photo: Deborah Dainese)

Talk Spiritual Ways and Workings Niklas Wolf

Talk Spiritual Ways and Workings Niklas Wolf

Terms like “fetish”, “fetishism”, “fetish priest” have been used by scholars and researchers in the past to misleadingly alienate and demonise performative practices of Vodun and their use of tangible manifestations. Often following religious and political agendas of colonialism, they couldn’t be further from any truth related to Vodun’s understanding of visual epistemologies and practices as well as their imagery.

As part of the exhibition “Im Rausch(en) der Dinge. Fetisch in der Kunst” (“Intoxicating Objects. Fetishism in Art”) held at Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich, Niklas Wolf will present on Spiritual Ways and Workings. Zu performativen Praktiken und materiellen Manifestationen westafrikanischer Vodun (“Spiritual Ways and Workings. On the Performative Practices and Material Manifestations of West African Vodun”).

Where: Institute for Art History, Zurich University

When: Tuesday, 30th April, 6.30 – 7.30 pm

more information: https://gs.ethz.ch/en/current/

Pèlerinage Toussaint Louverture au Fort de Joux

Pèlerinage Toussaint Louverture au Fort de Joux

On April 7 we joined the pilgrimage to Château de Joux which takes place every year to commemorate the death of Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture. The castle where Louverture was imprisioned by Napoleon Bonaparte is located right at the French-Swiss border. The Swiss historian Hans Fässler who co-founded the pilgrimage in 2002 maintains an excellent website where he writes:
“This traditional annual gathering on April 7 is a civic initiative in line with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Revolution of August 23, 1791 in Saint Domingue, requiring a genuine duty of remembrance, the right to history and the rehabilitation of General Toussaint Louverture who, through his fight for the triumph of the values of Liberty, Citizenship and Fraternity, embodies and universalizes Human Dignity.”

https://louverture.ch/pelerinage-toussaint-louverture/

Vodun jenseits von Hollywood – podcast from Birgit Meyer

A very interesting podcast about religion and spirituality initiated by the Department of Religious Studies of the University of Zurich features a conversation (in German) with the cultural anthropologist Birgit Meyer (Utrecht University), who moderated a panel in our workshop “Methods and Media of the Absent/Present. Visual Approaches to Vodun and Vodou.” Link to the podcast

Diapositives by Madafi Pierre

Diapositives by Madafi Pierre

Filmscreening: Diapositives by Madafi Pierre

6:30 pm, December 11, 2023
Studio of U5, Flüelastrasse 6, 8048 Zürich

In her film Diapositives, the artist and filmmaker Madafi Pierre portrays five people of Haitian origin living in Switzerland. Pierre takes a global look at Haiti and Switzerland and asks what the connections between these two counties are and what life in Switzerland is like from a Haitian perspective. Diapositives addresses questions of planned and unplanned mobility, migration as well as of belonging and feelings of home, which cannot (necessarily) be tied to territories.

With KRIK KRAK Pierre uses a mode of storytelling in the form of call-and-response that is rooted in Haitian culture. Since Haiti is the country of the first Black revolution starting in 1791, the film at the same time involves a conversation about the way we think about historiography, colonization, and the possibilities of decolonizing knowledge production.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A. Over drinks, finger food, and music there will be the opportunity to continue the discussion informally.

The screening is organized by Bettina Gräf and Rebecca Sauer (Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies, University of Zurich) and Dora Imhof and U5 (SNSF research project “Conflict and Cooperation”, Institute of Art History, University of Zurich).

publication ZADOKELI. EFO SELA x MAWULI ADZEI x ELIKPLIM AKORLI Sela Adjei Niklas Wolf

publication ZADOKELI. EFO SELA x MAWULI ADZEI x ELIKPLIM AKORLI Sela Adjei Niklas Wolf

New publication ZADOKELI. EFO SELA x MAWULI ADZEI x ELIKPLIM AKORLI (ed. by G. Edzordzi Agbozo and Niklas Wolf) available open access https://zenodo.org/record/7998232 (DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.7998232)

The word “zadokeli” in Ewe, means “eclipse of the sun”. During the global pandemic in 2020, 6 eclipses occurred within the year including 4 lunar eclipses across the world, with one total and one annular solar eclipse in addition. The first eclipse of 2020 occurred between 10th and 11th January, foreshadowing a dark year ahead. In the Ewe worldview, an eclipse, whether solar or lunar, is of deep spiritual significance. Thus, in the event of an eclipse, traditional priests, priestesses and diviners seek answers and offer prayers. These holders of  esoteric knowledge engage with the divinities to ‘restore’ normal cosmic order through propitiation rites. Adjei’s role here is as an artist drawing links between the 2020 eclipse and the rise in anti-Black violence and injustice, and positions him among the far-seeing priests and diviners who seek answers in an effort to ‘restore’ both cosmic and social order. Thus, through his new collection of paintings, Sela Adjei visually expands the discussion of analogizing the Black predicament with a recurring image of a gloomy eclipse; Zadokeli is the same theme that animates Mawuli Adzei’s new poetry anthology bearing the same title. The book was edited by G. Edzordzi Agbozo, Ph.D. (University of North Carolina Wilmington, USA) and Niklas Wolf, M.A. (University of Zurich). The contributing scholars include: Asana Greenstreet, M.A. (Royal College of Art), Matthew Francis Rarey, Ph.D. (Oberlin, Ohio, USA), Elikplim Akorli, M.Phil, Damawa L. Jallah, Alan Dunyo Avorgbedor, Ph.D. (McGill University’s Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture), kwabena agyare yeboah (University of California, Santa Barbara), Kate Wand, MFA, Nii Kotei Nikoi, Ph.D. (College of Wooster, Ohio, U.S.A.), and Fidelia Ankomah, M.Phil  (University of Cape Coast, Ghana).

publication Acquisition and Display Ethics Zainabu Jallo

publication Acquisition and Display Ethics Zainabu Jallo

As outcome of her research project “Material Expressions of West African Spirituality in the Americas: Transatlantic Continuities in Haiti” Zainabu Jallo’s conversation with Holger Jebens (Frobenius Institute, Goethe University Frankfurt) on “Acquisition and Display Ethics”, dealing with object transfers, methods of ethical investigation, and display, was published in PAIDEUMA Zeitschrift für kulturanthropologische Forschung 68, Reimer: Frankfurt am Main 2022.

publication Material Culture in Transit Zainabu Jallo Niklas Wolf

publication Material Culture in Transit Zainabu Jallo Niklas Wolf

Material Culture in Transit: Theory and Practice (Routledge 2023) – new Publication out now (DOI:  10.4324/9781003282334)

The book was edited by Zainabu Jallo, featuring a contribution by Niklas Wolf. 

The study of artefacts, objects, and things – or in whichever term the material world is described – is not only restricted to their physical attributes but engages in an interplay between people and things. (…) This stresses that Onthology, unlike semiotics, is geared towards being and experiencing. (Zainabu Jallo, Moving Matter: Worlds of Material Culture, DOI: 10.4324/9781003282334-1)

Material Culture in Transit: Theory and Practice constellates curators and scholars actively working with material culture within academic and museal institutions through theory and practice. The rich collection of essays critically addresses the multivalent ways in which mobility reshapes the characteristics of artefacts, specifically under prevailing issues of representation and colonial liabilities. The volume attests to material culture as central to understanding the repercussions of problematic histories and proposes novel ways to address them. It offers valuable reading for scholars of anthropology, museum studies, history and others with an interest in material culture.

In probing various representations of Vodun objects within European museums, cyberspace and other non-religious domains, Niklas Wolf scrutinises the agencies of West African Vodun objects in the political contexts of migration and globalisation. The „Material Culture of Vodun“ offers some indications of the meanings and instrumentality of a contemporary and globalised Vodun. Wolf raises questions on issues of „(im)mobilisation, appropriation, and continuous actualisation“ while introducing aspects of steadfast connections between Vodun’s display and material culture in West African shrines. (Niklas Wolf, The Material Culture of Vodun. Case Studies from Ghana, Togo, Germany and In-Between, DOI: 10.4324/9781003282334-11)

Research Niklas Wolf 2022 Nkyinkyim

Research Niklas Wolf 2022 Nkyinkyim

While Western curators still use the very specific and mostly misused term „Voodoo“ — a term that often “is fraught with racist categories about black religious practice […]” (Desmangles 2012: 26) — to frame the multitude of spiritual practices, networks and epistemologies of Vodun, artistic and academic research starts to highlight the many meanings of Vodun in a globalized world. Contemporary institutions of displaying African spiritual and knowledge systems, like the Nkyinkyim Museum in Ada (Ghana), founded by artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, are rewriting those narratives, opening up international spaces between the sacred and the secular, leaving terminological and functional restrictions of the museum as well as the ones of a shrine behind.

Desmangles, Leslie G. “Replacing the Term ‚Voodoo’ with ‚Vodou’. A Proposal”, Journal of Haitian Studies, vol. 18, no. 2, 2012, 26–33. Web.

image: Nsiso or Nsodie (Akan), portrait-like memorial heads at the Nkyinkyim Museum. © Niklas Wolf 2022

Research Niklas Wolf 2022

Research Niklas Wolf 2022

Back at the desk, back at home, reflecting on the many conditions of traveling, of seeing and being seen, the research, privileges, questions and time spent waiting in-between as well as the many conundrums (Landry 2019, 25) involved with such a journey. 

Sites visited in Ghana are among others the Mamishie Rasta shrine in Dzita (Volta), led by Mami Wata priestess Mamishie Rasta, and Hunua Adoglos shrine in Volta (both of them publicly displaying visualisations of Vodun), the Afrikan Magick Temple in Accra (led by Christopher Voncujovi, publicly educating on Vodun, using social media and the catch-phrase ReVodution), and the Nkyinkyim Museum in Ada, combining aspects of a shrine and a museum, addressing local and global communities. 

In Benin the Foret Sacree de Kpasse Ouidah (a museum and shrine, site for tourists and initiates at the same time), Daagbo Hounon Houna II, king of Vodun as well as the Mami Wata shrine at the Door of no Return were visited. 

Traveling was accompanied by reading on the conundrums other researchers starting off as outsiders to the imagery and spirituality of Vodun have faced, and reflecting on their ways to dealing with the many questions rising: Landry, Timothy R.: Vodún. Secrecy and the Search for Divine Power, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019 (Print). 

image: shrine next to the Door of No Return (Mami Wata), Ouidah. © Niklas Wolf 2022

The privat live of a cat

The privat live of a cat

Maya Deren kept cats and named them after vodou gods and many of these cats hated each other. Ghede and Erzulie had the run of the house and the others had to be locked up in rooms and behind fences. (from: The Legend of Maya Deren, A Documentary Biography and Collected Works, Volume + Part Two, Chambers (1942-47), Veve Clark, Millicent Hudson, Anthology Film Archives (Eds.), 1988)

The Private Life Of A Cat is a film by Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren. It shows a day in the life of a cat, filmed from a cat’s-eye view. This film was circulated in two versions: a silent version without narration and a longer sound version with a narration read by Maya Deren (1949) this version has the following prolog:

„This film is dedicated to cats. Not in grateful recognition of services rendered, for they neither lend themselves to our sport, nor provide us with material benefits, nor (..) master, they live in friendly, independent equitable peace with man. For this rare talent, which man himself labors to achieve, we pay them homage.“

Why Haiti Needs New Narratives. A Post-Quake Chronicle

Why Haiti Needs New Narratives. A Post-Quake Chronicle

On my desk: Gina Athena Ulysse, Why Haiti Needs New Narratives. A Post-Quake Chronicle (Wesleyan University Press, 2015). An inside view on the repercussions of the devastating earthquake in 2010 and many more issues of Haitian history, culture and every-day experience.

African Vodun. Art, Psychology, and Power

African Vodun. Art, Psychology, and Power

Doing some critical re-reading of Suzanne Preston Blier: African Vodun. Art, Psychology, and Power (1995). The book (re)introduces western terminologies of art (like assemblage) to matter of Vodun (geographically and content wise not as broadly as its title might suggest though, focussing on the Fon, using bocio — figurative containers of power — as an example to follow some global traces of Vodun) by connecting certain pictorial practices to social phenomena, body politics and dynamics, discussing their aesthetics, modes of representation, materiality and meaning (including a stylistic analysis). 

Suzanne Preston Blier: African Vodun. Art, Psychology, and Power. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press. 1995. Print. 

Diálogo Entre Filhos De Xangô: Correspondência 1947-1974.

Diálogo Entre Filhos De Xangô: Correspondência 1947-1974.

Currently working between two seminal books:

LEFT: Image from  Diálogo Entre Filhos De Xangô of Fieldwork  carried out in Ouidah, Benin by Pierre Verger in 1949. The book comprises letters between Pierre Verger and Roger Bastide (with References to Alfred Métreux`s field findings during the same period). It gives insights into the nascent academic formulation of Afro Atlantic religions.

Bastide, Roger and Pierre Verger. Diálogo Entre Filhos De Xangô: Correspondência 1947-1974. Edited by Françoise Morin and Regina Salgado Campos. EDUSP, 2017.

RIGHT: Returning to Robert Farris Thompson for the differentiation within Haitian Vodun. Chapter III, “The Rara of the Universe. Vodun Religion and Art Haiti”, explains Vodun practices in Haiti based on their origin:

“Both Rada and Petro partake of these sources of African influence; neither is traceable to just one source. Both are at once African-inspired and indigenously created. Rada, predominantly Dahomean and  Yoruba, is the “cool” side of vodun, being associated with the achievement of peace and reconciliation. Petro, predominantly Kongo, is the hot side, being associated with the spiritual fire of charms for healing and for attacking evil forces” (p.164).

Thompson, Robert Farris. Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. New York: Random House, 1983.