Art as shamanism

Well yes, of course that title’s a bit OTT, but I am fascinated by that dimension of art and creativity that seems to require us to talk in terms of spirit and other worlds. From the idea of the creative spirit inhabiting the artist at the time of creativity, to work that seeks to intercede in a quasi-shamanistic manner with forces that are believed to control our world, vast amounts of amazing art have come from that kind of mental and emotional space. It’s hard as a rationalist agnostic post enlightenment kind of person to know what to think about it all – and sometimes it seems better not to think about it at all.

In that spirit I’ve made a Talismanic work. It seeks to intercede in the life threatening illness of a friend and call on other beings to bring about healing. Do I believe in these other beings? Not really. Do I believe the work can actually affect my friend’s health… don’t think I do. But there’s something in me that thinks, do it anyway. I’ve come to have a strong awareness of the limits of our rationality, and a profound distaste for our arrogance in thinking our brains can conceive of all there is and draw firm boundaries around what is and isn’t. So although I can’t take the step into a belief in spirits, invisible forces and supernatural dimensions I also don’t think my belief is of much significance one way or the other. And I can clearly see the appalling mess our current way of conceiving of reality has got us into.

This isn’t a plea for irrationality and a rejection of science and reason. I absolutely don’t want to live in an age of bad dentistry. It’s more that it seems to me we are most foolish when we are at our most certain.

So here is my Talismanic painting, that incorporates certain Haitian sigils (called Veve) that are used in Vodou ceremonies that call upon the Lwa* to bring about desired changes in our world. The Lwa in the Veve in my painting are Erzuli and Marasa. There is also a sigil (The G) that represents Ginen, which can be described as the world that the Lwa live in, a world that is connected to but separate from ours. My knowledge of Vodou is very limited, so am reliant on the kind guidance of the great Haitain artist Lesly Msb Peirrepaul, for which I am deeply grateful.

  • The Lwa are akin to angels in that they intercede between mortals and the supreme Vodou deity BonDye, but they are a lot less well behaved, and can get pretty darn scary.