Portrait Of The Artist As A Shaman: Exhibition Links Modern Art To Exorcism

A new exhibition in Paris aims to show the fundamental link between Art and Anthropology, the connection between artist and shaman, both conquering chaos through rituals and cathartic masterpieces.

Portrait Of The Artist As A Shaman: Exhibition Links Modern Art To Exorcism
Judith Benhamou-Huet

PARIS - A strange exhibition that tells a strange story. It is the story of a man whose job is to communicate with the spirit world, interceding with the gods to chase evil and demons away. It is the story of the shaman, from Antiquity to today.

At the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, the exhibition "Les Maîtres du désordre" (Masters of Chaos) is the brainchild of Jean de Loisy, the museum's former independent curator who was recently appointed as head of Paris' Palais de Tokyo modern art museum. de Loisy believes there is a common language between anthropological objects and contemporary works. He uses modern art to "open the spectator's eyes' to traditional artifacts. In his opinion, contemporary artists are like the shamans of tribal cultures, messengers, "sentinels' of society. Quite a complex concept...

The exhibition opens on an impressive work by Thomas Hirschhorn, the Swiss-born, Paris-based artist. It consists in a row of small globes covered in bandages – an allegory of the injuries inflicted upon our planet. At first-glance, you might think these were 21st-century votive offerings. But in fact, Thomas Hirschhorn is simply criticizing today's society with his usual tools: everyday objects, cardboard and Scotch tape.

Primitive influences

So-called "primitive" arts have been influencing artists long before Hirschhorn –a perfect example is Picasso and the role African sculpture played on the birth of cubism. According to de Loisy, when visiting the Musée de l'Homme, Picasso found in African art "more than mere shapes, he found the power of exorcism." This is what the French surrealist writer André Breton called "L'Art magique" in the 1950s: "The works which for thirty to forty years have enjoyed the highest prestige are those that offer the least ground for rational interpretation, those that confuse, those that set us almost without bearings on a path different to the ones we have been given since the so-called Renaissance."

Can an exhibition explain the inexplicable? The Masters of Chaos leads the visitor on a journey through different civilizations, from the ancient Greeks to the Inuits, paved with installations that evoke ritualistic practices, a walk through different cultures and eras. One of the most successful confrontation is the presentation side by side of a powerful painting by American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat and a Brazilian Candomblé ritual statuette, both representing the same character: Exu or Eshu, a spirit that connects the material and spiritual worlds.

Body fragments

An important part of the exhibition is devoted the French artist Annette Messager. In her 1995-1996 installation Anatomy, she represented body fragments in small frames linked together by colored string. A network of hanging images. The artist explains: "Anatomy is a way of taming things that terrify me, like the inside of the body. In general I try and exorcize dangerous things. "

In the "invisible world" of past societies, diseases were often attributed to evil spirits or to failures of the soul. Addressing these evils directly by representing the body part in question –as Annette Messager did-- together with performing specific rituals then served as exorcism. An ear in ancient Egypt, a breast in 18th century Upper Bavaria…

The anxiety of man is universal, and comes out in different ways. Shamans and artists serve as megaphones.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Thomas Hirschhorn

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!