Voodoo keeps reinventing itself in Benin

Posted by Maxence Zabo on

Thanks to the festivities that keep it alive and the arts inspired from it, the voodoo never stops reinventing itself on his native territory. This religion, based on the animists cult and on specific rituals dedicated to invoke the gods, was born in the kingdom of Dahomey (ancient kingdom located in the South West of actual Benin) known as "land of voodoo". It is characterized by its appearance of “total experience”: processions, songs, furious rhythm of the percussions, trance, colorful costumes, animate the voodoo ceremonies.

At a time when spirituality is weakening under the influence of hyper-technology and rampant globalization, what’s future for voodoo? It is in Benin that we find the marks of its revitalization, that it takes the format of a national day or finds its place in contemporary art.

Photographies of Voodoo festivalPhotographies of Voodoo festival, January 2019, by Yannick Jolly

Indeed, it is interesting to note the continuation of the practices that surround it during huge gatherings like the Voodoo Festival held every year in Benin, on January 10, since 1993. This event, real national day, brings together all the scattered members of the African diaspora, most Vodounsi (followers of voodoo) coming back for this occasion. If the unfolding of the ceremony is always structured around offerings, dances and animations that honor the deities and remove evil, its meaning evolves over time. The religious anchorage is still evident, but for some, the event today embodies a symbolic element and representative of their culture. Moreover, as the years go by, the tradition benefits from the contribution of the new generations: the manufacture of the costumes is enriched by the use of new fabrics or by innovative techniques of cutting, the transport of the statues can now be carried out in motorized vehicles ... This celebration context shows the possible harmony between tradition and modernity

Contemporary African art is not insensitive to the voodoo spirit, especially for the great artistic figures who are heirs. Dominique Zinkpè, famous Beninese artist born in 1969 in Cotonou (Benin) has a unique relationship with this religion. First and foremost, the central importance he places on his country is reflected in his political and ethical commitment. Striving for the recognition of African art in Africa, he took the project of opening the Cultural Artistique and Touristic Center Ouadada in Porto Novo (Benin). Zinkpé is now the director of the Center and made it very famous. In addition, the proximity of its plastic expression to the lively and energetic manifestations of voodoo has often been noted. From the ligns to the electric colors, Dominique Zinkpè's work seem to draw inspiration from voodoo forces. In an interview for RFI, he returns to this inspiration attributed to him and which he confirms. Without attempting to make an ethnographical study of voodoo rituals, the artist uses the spiritual energy of these to design his paintings, and therefore proposes a "plastic transcription ». In addition, this religion also plays for him the role of a homecoming, a tribute to these living traditions that the Western world pejoratively called "folklore". Assuming his artistic approach reconciling inspiration from the past and aspiration to innovation, he affirmed in a talk reported by Roxana Azimi (World Africa): "Folklore, it also exists, I won't silence to satisfy the codes of contemporary art."

Voodoo pharmacy, Eric Bottero
Eric Bottero, Voodoo Pharmacy – sérum, 2017

The attraction of voodoo is such that it has attracted French contemporary artist in Benin, eager to study it more closely. Invited by Dominique Zinkpè, Eric Bottero, photographer, left France for a while during a residency at the Center of Art and Culture of Lobozunkpa (Benin). By attending to voodoo ceremonies and connecting with local population, the artist develops a personal perception of voodoo spirituality and wishes to include it in his art. On site, he embarked on a work of installation and sculpture that questions the relationship of this traditional religion with the current context, especially the consumer model in the era of overconsumption. His project takes various forms. The "Voodoo Pharmacy - Sérum" is an example of a series of healers' remedies, purchased on the market and regularly positioned, in a cold and impersonal way; this way he makes fun of the Western pharmaceutical rays. He also creates a whole series of fake worship statues. Some are used for a new critical speech, such as the "WIFI Fetish", criticizing the cult of permanent connectivity in Western countries. Steeped in this culture, he has also produced a photographic work on cosmetics and masks, mixing documentary intent and aesthetic research, named "Voodooland", in which he reintroduces fetishes in daily life scenes.