Vodun: African Voodoo at the Cartier Foundation

Vodun Exhibition at the Cartier Foundation

What is art?

I'm not going to pretend that I know much about the subject because I don't. But since I'm taking a crash course in Paris, it's only natural to start exploring some of my own ideas. So be forewarned, this is more of a mental exercise for me than a real blog post because I'm trying to figure out if the Vodun sculptures at the Cartier Foundation should be classified as art or as objects of anthropological interest. While Jacques Kerchache, the self-taught collector of Primitive Arts, strongly believed that the statues should be appreciated for their universal aesthetic value, the fetishes reminded me of some of the stories that I heard while living in the Caribbean and Asia.

Most people from North America or Europe dismiss voodoo as a bunch of hocus pocus but try telling that to the desperate Trinidadian woman who believes that her visit to the healer will put an end to her husband's philandering ways. And it very well may, for his lusty appetites will probably vanish in a fit of panic, at least momentarily, when he finds the fetish with the lower abdomen bindings that are supposed to interfere with sexual potency. Messing with the mind is a powerful tool.

Jacques Kerchache's Vodun sculptures, which is one of the most significant existing collections from West Africa, exhibits symbolism including:

  • Chest bindings: Interferes with breathing
  • Jaws tied to the back and closed with cords and a lock: Causes death. Opening the lock undoes the spell.
  • Jaw tied to the body: Hushes up an unwanted witness
  • Leg bindings: Causes paralysis
  • Neck bindings: Causes aphasia
  • Peg in the throat: Controls speech
  • Wooden peg embedded in the chest: Causes death

Studying each fetish encapsulated in its glass case evokes the rawest human emotions: fear, distrust, pain, jealousy and love. But is it art?

The Pavillon des Sessions, which is devoted to the arts of Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas, at the Louvre and the Quai Branley Museum were created after Jacques Kerchache's convinced French museums to consider Primitive Arts for their universal aesthetic value.

Please note that all of the photos in this post are from the Cartier Foundation website. Not that I'm superstitious or anything but after taking illicit photos at the Ralph Lauren exhibition, The Art of the Automobile, I didn't want to tempt the fates by taking forbidden pictures of the Vodun sculptures.

Cartier Foundation
261 Boulevard Raspail
75014 Paris
Metro Raspail or Denfert-Rochereau (lines 4 and 6)

The exhibition is open every day except Monday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. until September 25, 2011.

Vodun Exhibition at the Cartier Foundation