Ouidah is a city on the Atlantic coast of Benin which hosts Vodun, the world famous voodoo festival that takes place every seven years. Though other religions have taken importance in many African cities, Vodun continues to strongly permeate the voodoo culture in all places. Vodun encompasses all invisible forces and practices which allow us to communicate in harmony with them. Vodun can be described in many ways: as medicine art and a divination art (Fâ), as a justice, a power, an oral tradition or ritual (dance, music, masks and other fetishes). Like the shamans, people initiated at Vodun are “intermediaries” who exist somewhere between deities, ancestors and human beings.
Vodun practitioners acknowledge numerous different deities, in addition to the spirits of the deceased, and are often charged with approaching both of them to plead for children, prevent illness, defeat enemies and deserve the grace of gods. Many of the gods are represented by natural phenomena - the sea, sun, moon, fire or trees, amongst others. Different deities have appointed priests, specific objects for worship, fetish shrines and various required religious practices to be performed by believers. Ceremonies, which often occur seasonally, typically involve costumes and bodily adornment, dancing, chanting, and the playing of instruments such as gongs and drums.
In one of these ceremonies, people dressed in wonderful and colourful costumes made from textiles, embroideries and accessories, wear masks made of shells and dance in the streets, preceded by a music and people with sticks in procession. They are the phantoms, ancestors coming back from dead. Nobody is allowed to touch them and they are fiercely respected by everyone.
From May 23 to 26 May, 2013 Workplace Gallery is presenting new work by British artist Marcus Coates, exhibited for the first time at Art Basel Hong Kong. Consisting of a series of large scale photographic self-portraits, these works are a continuation of the performative ‘becomings’ at the centre of Coates’ enquiry into the definition and parameters of human-ness. In this photo, the physicality and symbolism of shaving foam combines with the portrait to create a ‘new’ subjectivity: a metamorphosis of self which is driven by both the will and belief of the artist, and the physical transformation of appearance through applied substance.