Spectacles and Performances: Voodoo Aesthetics within Low and High Art Forms
The pairing of voodoo and literature causes one to immediately think of writers like Charles Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, Ishmael Reed, Toni Cade Bambara, and Jewell Parker Rhodes, as these authors use conjure unequivocally within their literary works. However, voodoo flows more freely in the veins of popular culture than one may realize. Though Christian cultures have largely shunned voodoo as a practice, Western literature has used voodoo as sites of spectacles, moments of revenge, and performances of Africanness. In fact, western literature has a nuanced relationship with voodoo or voodoo aesthetics. Voodoo Aesthetics refers to the use of Vodun’s religious principles and iconography that adhere to a text’s purpose and develop the thematic effect. Undeniably, voodoo captures the imagination of black and white writers, which reveals both the obsession and reverence of it within American culture. For example, from Maurice Thompson’s poem “Voodoo Prophecy” to Zombie movies drawing on the horrors of conjure and rootwork, the use of voodoo reveals a white fear of blackness, even a repercussion for slavery while works like Bambara’s or Rhodes’ evoke a sense of empowerment, much like the way voodoo is credited for starting the Haitian Revolution. Moreover, voodoo or voodoo aesthetics also take on different roles when used in high and low art forms. Lower art forms may use voodoo aesthetics to create spectacles out of blackness or black suffering while higher art forms use voodoo aesthetics as an agent to evoke power and connect to an African past. The lower art forms perpetuate, exploit, or turn on racial stereotypes while the higher art forms dignify and legitimize African spiritual traditions that Western culture devalues and ridicules. The MELUS panel Spectacles and Performances: Voodoo Aesthetics within Low and High Art Forms seeks papers that explore the differing functions of voodoo or voodoo aesthetics in low and high art forms. We seek papers that examine a broad range of genres: movies, including the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s, comics/graphic novels, poetry, novels, short stories, and plays. How does voodoo or voodoo aesthetics interact with the text’s intended audience? What aspects of Africana culture are being exploited or exposed? What appropriations are made to create regional or racial identities? What are the differences between the spectacles drawing the audience’s gaze to blackness and the performances of African spirituality informing healthy black identities?