Animate Objects: The Spirited Sculptures of Potoprens

Jake Nussbaum

A saint stands at the back of the gallery in joyous salutation. His arms are salvaged metal, perhaps the tie rods of a scrapped truck. His head is a human skull, a real skull, mouth agape. A red christmas light pops out of one eye socket, a shotgun shell through the other. Wiry human hair bunches around his shoulders and neck. He wears a dusty-green WWII helmet, held in the halo of a rusty hubcap. In one axle-hand, he holds an iron rod from which rubber cords dangle and twist. In the other, he holds a rusty metal crucifix.

The saint has tied a pink scarf around his neck in a festive look that compliments the black cloak draped over his shoulders, a rag with an open front revealing a spine of stacked metal. From his waist springs a giant phallus, a literal spring, an old shock absorber that houses a smaller rod within. His cloak flows down to the floor, hiding a rusty monopod stand.

I said saint—thinking of a stained glass portrait of St. Bernard—with staff in one hand, Bible in the other, halo behind him. Among many things, this thing is a saint, though a deviant one. And it is the remains of a dead person. And it is an assemblage of other inanimate things—scrapped car parts and discarded materials. It is also a sculpture, and clearly so: its trunk is a pedestal, and it lives in a gallery in Brooklyn among an array of other figures and assemblages, in an exhibition of other artists from Port-Au-Prince. This particular sculpture is the work of André Eugene, an internationally exhibited artist and founder of the art collective Atis Rezistans, and a friend.

And, it is one of the Gedé—perhaps Bawon Lakwa (Baron La Croix, Baron The Cross)—a spirit of the dead known for his sophisticated style, his sense of humor, and sexual proclivity. And, this thing is a commodity: an object which is bought and sold in the art market, its monetary value likely increasing because of this exhibition.

Potoprens: The Urban Artists of Port-Au-Prince, exhibited at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn from September to November 2018, and curated by Leah Gordon and Edouard Duval-Carrié, gathers together the works of over a dozen sculptors and visual artists from Haiti’s capital city. In addition to the salvage assemblages of André Eugene, Guyodo, and other members of the Atis Rezistans collective, the show includes a group of monumental limestone heads carved by Ti Pelin, the sequined skulls of Dubréus Lherisson, and the wood carvings of Evel Romain, many of which have never before been shown in the U.S., or even outside of the studios in which they were made.

The exhibit is arranged by neighborhoods of Port-Au-Prince, inviting visitors to consider the objects both as individual works and as products of vernacular creative traditions. Some of these objects I encountered for the first time in Haiti, in the workshops and studios of the artists themselves, and within the dense lakous of the urban poor. Among these crowded spaces that brimmed over with sculptures, it was difficult to distinguish between finished works and works-in-progress, where one sculpture ended and another began.

Seeing these workshops in Port-Au-Prince revealed the continuity between each sculpture and the environment out of which it emerged. André Eugene’s studio, for instance, was steps from a collective of auto mechanics who worked all day hammering out dented tire rims, welding rebar, and shearing sheet metal. And only a few steps further was an immense pile of rubble, the remains of a building destroyed in the devastating earthquake of 2010. The scraps of the ironworkers, and the remnants of this destroyed building, generated a wealth of otherwise unusable material Eugene incorporated into his sculptures, putting the artist in direct conversation with his surroundings.

Even in a sterile museum setting in New York, under pristine lighting and in front of white walls, the sculptures continued to speak to their world. Seeing them in the gallery, I had the impression that they were living things, doing more than just looking back at me, but indeed joking, haunting, and offering advice. I am interested in how these sculptures, like Eugene’s Gedé Milité, embody and exceed their various constraints: as artworks, as commodities, as ceremonial vessels, as signs, as products of local vernaculars. Is it possible to interpret them in a way that accounts for their many functions for many people, without stripping away the agency of their makers, or over-determining the variety of affects which they will into being? Moreover, is there a way to align these various modes of analysis with the vodouism of these objects, which is to say their specific material agency that emerges from the lifeworld of Haitian vodou?

I do not mean to suggest that all of these objects are necessarily about vodou, nor that their makers are all practicing vodouists. Yet the sculptures emerge from a place, Port-Au-Prince, in which the everyday practice of vodou influences the lifeworld of the city in ways that are, at least, on equal footing with its history, its politics, its economics.

Understanding these objects in relation to Haitian vodou, for me, means finding ways to honor the vodou belief that ancestral spirits (and the objects that bear them) can affect the world, as this is the cosmology out of which they are made. I do not mean to suggest that all of these objects are necessarily about vodou, nor that their makers are all practicing vodouists. Yet the sculptures emerge from a place, Port-Au-Prince, in which the everyday practice of vodou influences the lifeworld of the city in ways that are, at least, on equal footing with its history, its politics, its economics.

Here, I draw on my own experience as a researcher and artist working alongside some of these sculptors to guide my thinking. In these conversations, I have heard narratives of divine inspiration, creative discovery, and, in part, the disavowal of the role of the individual human in the creative process. Gods, spirits, colonial revolution, an army of the dead, and a host of human and non-human forces (and assemblages of both), are always working their way into the creative practices of these sculptors.

I want to affirm that much of the expressiveness of these objects is due to the talent, skill, and creativity of the artists who fashion them. But I also want to venture that one way of thinking about their creativity is to ask how these artists have managed to create material formations through which an array of forces beyond them can act. The interpretations which follow are meant to follow the theorizing of the artists, and the worlds that they inhabit and embed into their work. Vodou offers one way of thinking how this might be possible, as do theories from the social sciences, including those of assemblage, ethnogenesis, and historical interpretation. These theoretical modes of analysis can help position this material within a nexus of influences, without excluding the acting cosmology in which it is inevitably bound up.

⁜ ⁜ ⁜

There is no singular belief system called Haitian vodou. For the purpose of this article, I will use the term vodou to refer to the heterogeneous conglomeration of spiritual practices that developed in Haiti during the colonial era, and which traces its roots to pre-middle-passage Africa, marronage communities, and indigenous Taino culture (Ramsey 2011). Yet it is possible to talk about certain overarching tenets of vodouism that are foregrounded in this exhibition.

Edwidge Danticat writes:

In the Haitian vodou tradition, it is believed by some that the souls of the newly dead slip into rivers and streams and remain there, under the water, for a year and a day. Then, lured by ritual prayer and song, the souls emerge from the water and the spirits are reborn… The year-and-a-day commemoration is seen, in families that believe in it and practice it, as a tremendous obligation, an honorable duty, in part because it assures a transcendental continuity of the kind that has kept us Haitians, no matter where we live, linked to our ancestors for generations. (Danticat 2011)

With this, the writer concisely introduces the vodouist’s belief in the continuity of life into death, and the permeable relationship between the spirit world and the material plane. In this cosmology, death is only a transition-point in the soul’s continuum, whereupon it moves from the organic tissue of the human body to the global medium of water. After the allotted year-and-a-day, families of the deceased hold ceremonies that call forth these spirits, inviting them to return from the water to the goings on of everyday life.

In Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen, an early ethnography of Haitian vodou, the author describes the process by which the spirit of the deceased is invited to enter a ceremonial vessel, called a govi, where the spirit will be held under the care of an oungan or mambo. Now residing inside the govi, the spirit transitions over decades into an archetypal divinity:

In due course of time, the parent in the govi becomes grandparent and the grandparent becomes ancestor. As his contemporaries die off, and with them all immediate first-hand memories, the flesh of the original human personality withers away, so that there is left within the govi only the distilled, depersonalized, almost abstract essence of the principle that especially characterized him… In time, the ancestor becomes archetype. Transposed to this dimension, the summoned voice in the govi is no longer intimate, advisory; it is an objective oracular authority that booms as if from the bowels of the earth. What was once believed, is now believed in. Where once the parent inspired filial devotion, the deity now exacts dedication. The ancestor has been transfigured into a god. (Deren 1953, p. 29)

In this way, ancestors are gradually assimilated into the very pantheon of lwa (vodou divinities), who can exert their will within the world.

Objects such as the govi, like the year-and-a-day ceremony, are sites of connection, crossroads between the material and spirit world. Between Danticat and Deren’s descriptions, we can begin to see the dynamic, permeable relations of matter to spirit within vodou. Thus, Danticat’s elders repeat to her the phrase, “In Haiti, the dead are never really dead” (2011). With an eye toward the spirit-world, we (as audience, as theorists) can invite the sculptures of the Potoprens exhibition to come alive.

⁜ ⁜ ⁜

At the opposite end of the gallery, something is lurching, bending over, leaning, I can’t quite say. This thing, including its hollowed interior, is about 5 feet tall and 3 feet in diameter, all grey and silver. Its body is grey wood, a massive chunk of tree, hollowed in the center like a cave. Several faces, with carved out noses and eyes and mouths, peer out from the cave. Some seem human, others demon, others half-formed. Embedded around them are obsolete circuit boards, bottle caps, speaker cones, broken hubcaps, a few tiny liquor bottles. Around the frame of this lurching-cave-shrine twists a rusty box-spring, assembling into scales, into hair, into armor.

The untitled sculpture is the work of Guyodo, who, like Eugene, is a founder of the Atis Rezistans artist collective and is known for his ingenious assemblages of salvaged material. Like Gedé Milité, this untitled sculpture is made of organic and inorganic matter, industrial castaways and everyday detritus. But unlike Eugene’s representation of a gedé, who stands tall among an array of other figurative works, Guyodo’s untitled sculpture lacks a singular anthropomorphic form, and appears to us as a conglomeration of many entities both living and dead.

In his talk Re-stuffing Theory, Rethinking Assemblage, Bill Brown defines assemblages as “heterogeneous constructs that are the products of cross-cutting historical processes” (Brown 2018). He then goes on to describe, when looking at Robert Rauschenberg’s famed combines, the “assemblage-effect”: an experience of heterogeneity in which disparate components never resolve into unity (ibid.). Brown’s notion of the assemblage-effect, in reference to Guyodo’s unnamed and indefinable sculpture, feels right, especially if we open the notion of “historical processes” to include cosmological and natural histories as well. From this view, we can think of Guyodo as an assembler of material histories (or a creative archaeologist), tangling together the material evidence of the seismic forces that construct his world into assemblages that refuse to resolve into any singular entity.

We have already encountered the vodouist’s belief that the spirits of the dead inhabit the material of the living world— in trees, in air, in caves, in ritual vessels, and elsewhere. From there, it is an easy leap to think of the carved faces in this sculpture as both representations and evidence of the presence of spirits in the wood. But what does it mean that this wood is also an armature for an array of obsolete electronics, old car parts, scrap metal, and household detritus?

One interpretation is that Guyodo’s assemblages bring the universal process of death into conversation with the world of consumerist materials. Many of the objects in Guyodo’s work, especially the electronics, are produced outside of Haiti and arrive there through global processes of consumer trade. But unlike major cities in the U.S. that export their waste to other counties and countries, Port-Au-Prince lacks the infrastructure and capital to “properly” dispose of obsolete consumerist materials. It is impossible to walk through downtown Port-Au-Prince without coming across piles of trash (sometimes burning) and rubble deposits (exacerbated and intensified by the 2010 earthquake). Port-Au-Prince becomes the final resting place (along with many other places in the “global south”) for the world’s detritus.

The conditions of life in Port-Au-Prince, and the insistent presence of material waste, give rise to a massive economy of reuse, scrapping, and repair. Guyodo’s art practice is no different: it is the literal making of the means of survival through the repurposing and revaluing of cast-off (i.e., free) material. At the same time, the artist invites us to consider how these practices of giving materials “new life” are in conversation with vodou narratives of rebirth and renewal through death. This lurching-cave-shrine, adorned with waste, echoes the sentiments of Edwidge Danticat’s grandmothers that the dead in Haiti never die. Guyodo’s work proposes, perhaps, that materials never do either.

This unnamed sculpture is a conglomeration of indices to the precarious environment in which it was produced. Its carved wood frame calls to the rapidly disappearing forests throughout the country, just as its discarded circuit-boards call to the roadside cell-phone repair stands all over the city, and its scrap metal and car parts to the ceaseless laboring of local ironworkers. Such are the results of an insatiable global-economic desire for fuel, and the constant stream of material waste left in its wake. There is a wry implication to Guyodo’s work, that all of these orientations to consumerism are already outmoded, obsolete in the face of the universal process of death.

In general, the assemblages in Potoprens seem to have a consumptive power, an ability to feed on the material remains of everything. Vodou, as with many spiritual beliefs emerging from coloniality, is often described as a “syncretic” practice, one that is continuously merging with the practices immediately surrounding it. Most vodou gods, for instance, are syncretized with Catholic Saints, and often Catholic shrines are sites of vodou practice (and vice versa). Rara, a musical form emerging from vodou, synthesizes the sound of traditional African hand drums along with raspier snare drums appropriated from European colonists.

A similar process of re-inscription might be at play in these sculptures, with icons of mass consumerism substituted for the “elements of imperial culture,” and the implication that Haiti’s dependency on foreign markets operates as a form of neocolonialism. Guyodo’s untitled sculpture draws our attention to the inadequacy of global consumerism to improve the living conditions of everyday Haitians, while also testifying to the resilience and inventiveness required of them to survive.

Likewise, vodou practices are not exclusionary. It is exceedingly common in Haiti for Catholics to practice vodou and vice versa. And many vodouists argue that certain ceremonial rhythms and practices descend from the Taino, the island’s pre-colonial indigenous population. Again, vodou is not a uniform religion: it is an expansive array of heterogeneous spiritual practices with certain shared valences, origins, and orientations. Guyodo’s assemblages point us toward vodou-as-assemblage: an always-incomplete arrangement of moving parts, an ever-growing and ever-changing spiritual combine.

Global capitalism’s endless material production is met with Guyodo’s capacity to incorporate more and more and more material. Like the ancestors who demand weekly offerings of sugarcane, roasted goat, rum, plantains, gourds, and all the other staples of daily consumption in Port-Au-Prince, these assemblages desire an unachievable satiation, which is to say they emerge out of the anticipatory present of life in the lakou: always-falling-apart, always-under-construction, always-looking-for-food, always-in-relation-to.

⁜ ⁜ ⁜

Gathered together in the gallery space, the sculptures assemble into a cadre of spirits, misfits, comedians, skeletons, snakes, and disembodied heads. They are on the move— marching, flying, slithering, lurching, rolling toward you.

Nussbaum 4

Potoprens gallery view

“History is how the secular world deals with the dead” (Ulysse, 2018). History is how the secular world deals with the dead. Anthropologist Gina Ulysse repeated the phrase several times throughout her performance-lecture in the gallery, projecting it up toward the ceiling and echoing it around the room. History is how the secular world deals with the dead. Ulysse’s utterance rallied the objects around her into formation, animating them into active states of readiness and motion. She seemed to suggest that the sculptures around her were indeed the dead, or, at least, a way to deal with them: the bodies and spirits of ancestors lost to what the secular world terms “history”— the processes of slavery, colonization, revolution, independence, neocolonial intervention, dictatorship, corruption, ecological disaster, and economic enslavement that constitute the broad strokes of Haiti’s past.

The description calls to mind Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, whom he imagined as the subject of Paul Klee’s Angelus Novelus:

His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (Benjamin 1940, p. 392)

In Benjamin’s metaphor, the angel of history is helpless to intervene in the disastrous wreckage of world war, industrialization, and modernization. And it is indeed civilization’s desire for “progress” that prevents him from doing so.

Benjamin famously sought after ways to activate the past, to make it come alive in ways that could illumine the present moment to imminent threats of danger and catastrophe (Benjamin 1940). To do this, he positioned himself as a scrap-collector and flaneur, searching through everyday “profane” materials in the hope of finding some insight into how things came to be the way they are. Such a description might well describe the artistic process of salvage sculptors like Guyodo and André Eugene. But, returning to Ulysse, we must also think about these objects as non-secular, as particularly charged with the spirits of vodou, and therefore potentially capable of the kinds of intervention that Benjamin’s angel of history is not.

The sculptures of Potoprens illuminate a particularly Haitian view of history that engages with the mythic world of vodou and traces its lineage to pre-colonial Africa. In particular, the sculptures of Evel Romain, made primarily of carved wood, small pieces of scrap metal, woven rope, and exquisitely dissected car tires, invoke, among many things, the “power figures” of the African Congo. “Power figures,” such as the famous Mangaaka figure in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, were wooden figures commissioned by African chiefs to resist 19th-century colonial rule (McDermon 2015). Mangaaka were “activated” by inserting sacred materials into their orifices, and were then used to settle disputes and finalize business transactions, signified by the addition of pieces of scrap metal such as household nails. Holland Cotter, reviewing the Met’s 2015 exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty, described the Mangaaka as sculptural responses to the “slow-motion” emergency of colonialism (2015).

Nussbaum 5

[Power Figure (Nkisi N’Kondi: Mangaaka), Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art]

The Mangaaka may or may not have had a direct influence on the work of Evel Romain, but it is impossible to deny their affinity with his sculptures and the larger resonance between the sculptures of the Potoprens exhibition and an African aesthetic of colonial resistance that is both mythologized and real. It is equally impossible to narrate Haitian history without acknowledging that the vast majority of its citizens are descendents of enslaved Africans. The signaling between the sculptures in Port-Au-Prince to colonial-African aesthetic and ritual is both a consequence of the surviving aesthetic lineage between Haitians and their enslaved African ancestors, and a deliberate gesture by these sculptors to position themselves in conversation with their diasporic African identity.

The move evokes Barbara Voss’s conception of “ethnogenesis,” which she defines as the creation of shared identity through an unpredictable process “of practical strategies and tactics of cultural creativity” (2008, p. 33). African genealogies figure prominently in these works, as does Haiti’s colonial history. Pirate hats, daggers, rum bottles, military paraphernalia, and other tokens of coloniality are embedded throughout the sculptures on view, while certain monumental figures seem to pay homage to the heroic stature of Haiti’s revolutionary leaders.

In addition to this surface-level correspondence, there is a deep connection between vodou mythology and Haitian history. The very foundation-myth of the Haitian revolution begins with the vodou ceremony of boa kayiman, rendering Haiti’s political independence inseparable from the practice of vodou. If African ancestry, revolutionary politics, and vodou, are the “ethnogenetics” of these sculptures, then they are also inseparable within them.

Returning again to Ulysse’s call that history is how the secular world deals with the dead, I wonder if we can push Voss’s notion of ethnogenesis further toward the non-secular. These sculptures are not simply re-narrating the shared myth of Haitian identity but literally calling to presence the uncountable ancestors of Haiti’s past. In the world of vodou, the dead that pile up throughout history are indeed always already living again. Perhaps it is for this reason that art historian Donald Cosentino described the figurative sculptures in Potoprens as an “indigenous army” (Cosentino 2018), although the word indigenous seems a bit misplaced. The beings that animate these sculptures— the ancestors and the various lwa which they engage— can be seen as the revolutionaries, prophets, rebel slaves, maroons, oungans, mambos, and pre-colonial African chiefs that have led Haiti through its turbulent history. The shared identities invoked in these works are more than a rhetorical or symbolic project, but the revolutionary, political, and spiritual practice of awakening the dead, in an effort to “make whole what has been smashed.”

⁜ ⁜ ⁜

Nussbaum 6

[Dubréus Lherisson, Bawon Lakwa 2018]

A (human?) skull adorned with black and white sequins looks out from a small window in the gallery. This thing is horned— its horns are in the shape of small liquor bottles— and snarling (human?) teeth protrude from the lower lip. Faux-pearls are strung around the lips and nose, and the sequins on the forehead swirl into a rose pattern, with a single black bead at its center. Its eyes and nose are tiny mirrors.

The mirrors in the eyes of Dubréus Lherisson’s skull reflect the viewer’s gaze back upon them, asking them to find their own position within its outward stare. Is it looking out toward the living? Toward the imagined other? Toward the imagined buyer? Toward the museum-goer? How you answer these questions depends, in part, on who you are and how you found yourself to be looking in the first place. But the particularities of this exhibition, and its existence within an art-world context, are also meant to structure your gaze. In the context of the Pioneer Works gallery space, we are asked to consider their value— as commodities, as aesthetic objects, as contributions to global understandings of art. Lherisson’s skull, with its luxuriant pearls and sequins stretched against human bone, challenges us to reckon with museumification as a form of death, and to ask whether, in the context of vodou, this means what we think it does.

Without context, Lherisson’s delicate and intricately sequined skull might appear to the viewer as a unique and imaginative form. But as the label beside it informs us, Lherisson “grew up in the Bel Air neighborhood, which has an established tradition of vodou flag-making.” And Lherisson’s work is grouped alongside the work of other artists from Bel Air, described in more detail at the outset of the exhibit:

Bel Air… is reputed to be one of the few areas where Marron (runaway) slaves could hide in the city during the colonial period. The contemporary legacy of this clandestine heritage seems to be the remarkable concentration of Vodou temples, rara bands, Vodou flag artists, and sequin sculptors. (Potoprens 2018)

The curators do much to position Lherisson’s work within the creative life of Bel Air. In so doing, they explicitly make the connection between traditional creative practices of vodou worship, the legacy of resistance to slavery, and the sculptures on display. There is an implication that the work does not emerge in isolation, nor is it the product of the singular genius so often mythologized in western art.

The entire exhibition is similarly arranged by neighborhood, described in a somewhat convoluted curators statement as “a visionary mapping of the popular urban zones of production present in contemporary Port-Au-Prince… These are the imaginative productions of a city of fragments and a metropole of the whole…” (Potoprens 2018). In so many ways, the curators urge us to see these objects as the product of cultural processes that exceed the individual (in large part what I have been attempting here). And, generally speaking, my own experience working and talking alongside some of these artists leads me to think that many of them would affirm this representation.

At the same time, I want to prod why this exhibition is structured in such a way. The strategy of arranging these sculptures by neighborhood seems more akin to the way a museum of anthropology would display artifacts than how a traditional group art show is arranged. How does this format change the audience’s view of the artworks, and the artists who created them? In particular, describing Port-Au-Prince’s neighborhoods as “popular urban zones of production” seems to invite a view of the city as a workshop filled with creative laborers and a hive of material production. Such a view could reproduce certain perceptions about labor-relations between the first and third world, reducing Port-au-Prince to a source of creative labor intended for the benefit of global art audiences.

In Gina Ulysse’s performance-talk, she alluded to the same problem, asking, “When do Haitian artists get to be just artists?” (Ulysse, 2018). The answer would seem to depend on how these works face different publics, and to what ends. Universally, these artists want to sell their work, and they echo Ulysse’s frustration at constantly being pigeonholed as Haitian, with its connotations of provincialism and so-called “folk art.” The very label “Haitian artist” seems to imply incomplete entry into the international art market (not to mention the very real visa restrictions imposed on Haitian artists by the U.S. state department). At the same time, as objects bound up in vodou practice and political critique, their power only grows with recognition of their collectivity.

The sculptures in this exhibition do not make clean distinctions between Haiti and elsewhere, colonizer and colonized, vodou and commodity, spirit and material, living and dead. Their complexity reveals all these notions to be in dynamic interrelation. This is what distinguishes them from the “traditional objects” of vodou ceremonies and asserts the legitimacy of their makers as artists in the western sense. That these objects insist on remaining in the lifeworld of vodou, despite their entrance into the global art market, exposes western assumptions about the separation of politics, spirituality, and art. 

Perhaps the tension between art-as-commodity and art-as-spiritual-object emerges more from the particular circumstances of this exhibition than from the objects themselves. After all, vodouists work for hire—certain ceremonies cost more than others, certain oungans and mambos have higher rates—and becoming a successful spiritual practitioner (or artist) is one way to make a living. The objects in this exhibition appeal to a multitude of desires, whether they be aesthetic, spiritual, or commoditized. In so doing, they confuse our distinctions between each.

The sculptures in this exhibition do not make clean dstinctions between Haiti and elsewhere, colonizer and colonized, vodou and commodity, spirit and material, living and dead. Their complexity reveals all these notions to be in dynamic interrelation. This is what distinguishes them from the “traditional objects” of vodou ceremonies and asserts the legitimacy of their makers as artists in the western sense. That these objects insist on remaining in the lifeworld of vodou, despite their entrance into the global art market, exposes western assumptions about the separation of politics, spirituality, and art. Lherisson’s skull isn’t just looking back at the viewer. In the context of this exhibition, it is looking at the west, and in so doing, implicating the ways the west looks back. Perhaps the art museum is where such an object goes to die, but only insofar as it remains a spirited actor in the material world.

References

Brown, Bill. 2018. “Re-Stuffing Theory, Re-Thinking Assemblage.” Lecture. Humanities Center Forum on Stuff, University of Pennsylvania, PA, November 28, 2018.

Benjamin, Walter. 1940. “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” In Selected Writings vol. 4: 1938-1940. Translated by Edmund Jephcott and others. Edited by Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings. 388-397. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

Cosentino, Donald. 2018. “Afro-Gothic.” Lecture. Pioneer Works, Brooklyn. October 27, 2018.

Cotter, Holland. 2015. “Review: ‘Kongo: Power and Majesty’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” New York Times, September 17, 2015.

Danticat, Edwidge. 2011. “A Year And A Day.” The New Yorker, January 17, 2011.

Dawdy, Shannon Lee. 2010. Patina: A Profane Archaeology. The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, Il.

Deren, Maya. 1953. Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. McPherson: Kingston, NY.

Liebmann, Matthew. 2012. Revolt: An Archaeological History of Pueblo Resistance and Revitalization in 17th Century New Mexico. The University of Arizona Press. Tucson, Arizona.

McDermon, Daniel. 2015.  “A Lost African Civilization, and a Sculpture That Tells Its Story.” New York Times, September 30, 2015

Ramsey, Kate. 2011. The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, IL.

Stocking, George W. 1988. Objects and Others: Essays on Museums and Material Culture. Edited by George W. Stocking. Introduction. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI.

Ulysse, Gina. 2018. “Afro-Gothic.” Lecture. Pioneer Works, Brooklyn. October 27, 2018.

Voss, Barbara L. 2008. The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis. University of Florida Press: Gainesville, Fla.

Jake Nussbaum is a multidisciplinary artist, researcher, and PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. His work investigates the role of improvisation in spiritual and creative practices, particularly within the Caribbean and Caribbean diaspora. His projects use techniques like pirate radio, group improvisation, and alternative map-making, to generate collective knowledge. His work includes The Radyo Shak, a pirate radio station in Port-Au-Prince for the 2015 Ghetto Biennale, with Richard Fleming; Tanbou Maps, a collaborative painting visualizing vodou rhythm with Syndia Leonce, for the 2017 Ghetto Biennale; and Radyo Vagabondo, for Manifesta 2018 in Palermo, Sicily.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.