by: Gina Athena Ulysse on March 18th, 2015 | Comments Off
News that Karen McCarthy Brown passed away after years of deteriorating illness reached me earlier this month. I kept it to myself. When more official announcements from Drew University–where she was Professor Emerita of anthropology and sociology of religion — showed up on my Facebook feed this past Sunday, I shared it with the following comment:
Reading Karen’s Mama Lola kept me in grad school. Vodou got a human face from her. A tremendous loss, indeed.
by: Gina Athena Ulysse on February 6th, 2014 | Comments Off
Photo credit: Studio Museum of Harlem
Theaster Gates has been dubbed “the real-estate artist,” “the opportunity artist,” “an anthropologist, urbanist, activist — the 21st-century artist,” “the poster boy for socially engaged art,” #40 in Art Review’s “2013 Power 100, A ranked list of the contemporary art world’s most powerful figures,” and even “the Mick Jagger of social practice.”
His works include his signature Dorchester Projects, 12 Ballads for Huguenot House and numerous others. In 2012, he was awarded the WSJ innovator of the year art prize. In 2013, he was named a United States Artists fellow and also received the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Arts and Politics. There are many more accolades than I can name.
So when I went to the Studio Museum of Harlem on January 16th for the activation of See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court (2012) — tables, chairs and desks salvaged from a now-closed public school on Chicago’s South Side, I believed the hype but still wasn’t sure what to expect.
by: Gina Athena Ulysse on March 12th, 2013 | Comments Off
Members of the Organization of Women Writers of Africa Inc's Board of Directors. Credit: OWWA.
As International Women’s Day celebrations continue, the Organization of Women Writers of Africa Inc (OWWA) seeks to bring Black women writers to Ghana. Yari Yari Ntoaso: Continuing the Dialogue is the theme of OWWA’s conference scheduled to be held in Accra on May 16-19. The word yari, from the Kuranko language of Sierra Leone means future while ntoaso from the Akan language of Ghana translates as understanding and agreement. According to Conference Director, Brooklyn College Assistant Professor and poet, Rosamond King, “this Yari Yari will extend the dialogue of the first two Yari Yaris, which put hundreds of women writers and scholars in discussion with thousands of people”.
As stated on their website, OWWA is a nonprofit literary organization concerned with the development and advancement of literature of women writers from Africa and its Diaspora. It is associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information In 1991, the legendary activist-poet Jayne Cortez together with Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo founded OWWA. The Founding Board members of the organization are: J.e Franklin, Cheryll Y. Greene, Rashidah Ismaili, Renee Larrier and Louise Meriwether.
I grew up in a country that most of the world degrades and continues to dismiss because it is broken.
Several years ago, I had a revelation. I was trying to sort out a problem, when it hit me. I am not Haiti. I may have been born in Haiti and may resemble Haiti and have its characteristics: something of anenfant terrible, too proud, too black, too strong, too spiritual and too confident. But I am not Haiti. I am not as broken anymore and that scares people. Often we find it easier to love that which is broken. It can make us feel stronger… better about ourselves. We tend to be less threatened by that which is in disarray or needs us to feel whole.
When Haiti attempted to piece itself together two centuries ago (209 years ago on this January 1st), many among those in power at home and abroad took calculated steps to ensure that it would remain shattered. All of my life, I have lived various aspects of the shame of this heritage. I have also been continually reminded I was born in a small place that is devalued and is trampled upon precisely because of its weaknesses. I persevere holding on to knowing my little country dared. It dared to step out of line. It dared to stand up for itself. It dared to try to define itself. It dared.
Vodun practitioners from all over the African Diaspora traveled to Benin (formerly Dahomey), the birthplace of the religion, this week to participate in what is known as International Voodoo Day. This January 10 festival of prayers, libations, sacrifices and other rituals is the most important Vodun gathering in the world.
As a Haitian-American, I can’t help reflect on this most African part of our heritage in the New World especially as it is continually maligned by those whose knowledge is restricted to popular images that favor the macabre. Those of us who recognize and respect Vodou’s complexity know we must defend it because the religion remains trapped in stereotypes making it extremely difficult to dispel geopolitically driven myths too entrenched in the spectacular.
Growing up as a child in Haiti, I had no concept of what is referred to as “Voodoo” in the U.S. In fact, the more appropriate word, Vodou, was not part of my vocabulary. The tradition that some members of my family followed was known as “serving the spirits.” Even that phrase was not something we actively used, since our actual engagement was rooted more in daily practice than naming. Serving meant living in a world where the sacred and secular were blurred. So it was commonplace to see adults pour libations of water and coffee three times onto the ground upon awakening in the morning before even speaking to one another. Or sometimes they rushed to the outhouse, I would learn later, to expunge bad dreams that should not be spoken in order to deflect their mal-intention and prevent entry into the home. These and other very conscious acts of psychic repulsion taught me that serving the spirits was foremost about communion and protection.