Museum of Civilization: Vodou
Just back from the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa where we spent the day sketching their current exhibition: Vodou. On display until Feb 23. Info here: http://www.civilization.ca/vodou/.
The exhibit is more of an art installation than anything else. You’ll find sculpture, carvings, and numerous artifacts of religious significance. I found it fascinating and well worth the visit, but I’m not sure it would be to everyone’s taste.
The highlight of the show is a room of curious figures. I am tempted to call them ‘dolls’, because of, well, Voodoo.
Many of them seem to be crudely stitched from canvas or leather of some kind. Most are painted in drips of blood red and some kind of dark waxy streaks. They range between two and five feet tall. Many sprout horns or bat wings and carry weapons – swords, spears, clubs. The scars of their seams, lashed with careless stitching can’t help but suggest an autopsy, or perhaps Dr. Frankenstein’s handiwork.
Given the overly theatrical red walls and halloweenish smoky-acid-green lighting, the curators have created a bit of a house of horrors. Complete with a room of leering demonic mirrors at the exit.
There is a great deal of chit-chat in the wall text about how Vodou has been misrepresented in Hollywood – but I can’t say the museum is doing much to clear that up. It seems more like they’ve put on a show for the kids this October.
But behind this circus freakshow, there are disturbing hints at a darker possibility. The heads on these creatures with their malformed faces drawn in coils of rope, might appear to be cartoons of skeletons. But the presence of a few three-legged ‘urns’ capped with authentic boney skulls suggest to me, that there could well be a human head inside each one of these bizarre figures, eyes blinded with mirror, a new face of waxed leather stretched across the skull. I couldn’t help but feel that all of these things conceal human remains.
The impression I received, quite likely having nothing to do with reality, resulted in these sketches.