Project Voodoo and the state of inter. Bildproduktion und Medien westafrikanischer Vodun zwischen Identität und Alterität

Conflict and Cooperation / Project Voodoo and the state of inter. Bildproduktion und Medien westafrikanischer Vodun zwischen Identität und Alterität
Voodoo and the state of inter. Bildproduktion und Medien westafrikanischer Vodun zwischen Identität und Alterität

Niklas Wolf

The powerful images of West African Vodun are a crucial part of their spiritual practice. Vodun synthesize and accumulate content, form, and material which they have encountered and continue to encounter in various inner-African and global contact zones (Pratt 1999). One characteristic of Vodun (meaning the religion or spiritual knowledge system, spirits and their pictorial objects at the same time) is their openness to foreign influences. By storing specific pictorial knowledge, they acquire mnemonic functions and become part of international archives. In West African shrines as well as in Western museums, the images of Vodun communicate specific discourses inscribed into them, dealing with questions of identity and alterity. Especially nowadays, these pictorial objects are being claimed by African artists, re-appropriated and expanded visually, materially and in terms of content through decidedly artistic methods, addressing an international audience.

Thus, questions can be raised about the organization of such images in archives, their media and medial processes, and not least their participation in a decidedly contemporary and global collective memory.

In this sense, Vodun connect the places of their appearance through fluid networks, especially since usually the processes of Vodun and its images are constantly in a state of being unfinished (Rush 2010).

Using various examples especially from the Volta region of Ghana and Togo, the dissertation explores the contemporary significance of such images for local contexts and especially their impact on global networks.

Currently, for example, new, international images emerge on publicly accessible walls of shrines. Those are often made available to Vodun using markers of foreignness which also seem to nobilize them, making them part of local historiographies (Vannier et al. 2016). It is evident that the power of such images in the present is translated by various African religious specialists (making use of social media for example) and artists as well, creating new images and imagery of contemporaneity, mostly digitally and by using specific aesthetics making them internationally understandable; they therefore often seem to address decidedly diasporic contexts. Furthermore Vodun have also left their mark in Western collections and modes of exhibition displays, closely interwoven with the history and stories of their European curators, materialising in various publications and public installations as well as artistic - and especially photographic - practice and research.

The interdisciplinary approach of this project will be characterized by using methods of visual studies, adopting an intercultural hermeneutic perspective. Questions of material culture, the archive, museology and its methods of display and media will also be addressed.

Further Readings:
Adjei, Sela Kodjo. Philosophy of Art in Ewe Vodu Religion. Accra: University of Ghana, 2019. Web.
Gell, Alfred. Art and Agency. An anthropological Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998. Print.
Harman, Graham. Object-Oriented Onthology. A new Theory of Everything. London: Penguin Random House, 2018. Print.
Hill, Elyan Jeanine. Spirited Choreographies. Ritual, Identity, and History-Making in Ewe Performance. Los Angeles: UCLA, 2018. Web.

Rush, Dana. Ephemerality and the ‘Unfinished’ in Vodun Aesthetics. African Arts 43.1 (2010): 60–75. Web.
Vannier, Christian, and Eric James Montgomery. Sacred Slaves: Tchamba Vodu in Southern Togo. Journal of Africana Religions 4.1 (2016): 104. Web.

Depiction of Ištar (akkadian name of a Mesopotamian Godess), the Queen of heaven and thunder God in the Mamishie Rasta shrine, Ghana. Photo: Niklas Wolf, 2019
Exhibition view (Mami Wata Altar, Museum Soul of Africa), Voodoo, Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum Hildesheim, 19.10.2019 - 27.9.2020. Photo: Niklas Wolf, 2020
Screenshot webpage Afrikan Magick Temple (Accra, Ghana)., Accessed 24.01.2022