Archive for the Art Category

Legba creates my vision

Posted in Agwe, Art, La Sirene, Legba, Religion, Ritual, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2015 by cheshirecatman

Legba walkingI am coming up on the first anniversary of my Kanzo with Sosyete du Marche. Thus it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the past year and what has (and has not) changed about me and my life.

Outwardly, there is not a whole lot of visible change. I am still at the same job. I live in the same place, in the same area of town. I haven’t gotten a spiffy new haircut nor remodeled my home.

Not all of my bad habits have changed. I still stay up too late on weekends, and have a tendency to procrastinate. I have an impatient streak, but it’s one that I continue to mostly control. I can be messy when I get busy or tired, especially when facing art deadlines. I still am fascinated with the afterlife, although in a much more positive way than I have been in the past.

What has changed outwardly is the official acquisition of my new family, the Sosyete. This is no small thing for me—my birth mother crossed over nearly three decades ago, I never knew my father and the one living relative I do know is permanently estranged. Now I have parents and many siblings I can turn to for love, advice and support. I took great delight in sending my initiatory mother a small Mother’s Day gift, something I have not been able to enjoy for many years.

So what about the less-obvious changes?

Many times I thought about writing this post but kept putting it off, uncertain whether there had been any changes interesting enough to discuss here. Apparently the changes kind of crept up on me. Some people’s experiences are more dramatic and obvious, but the majority of mine tend to be more subtle. My Lwa often speak softly, and in the language of images.

In March and early April I was engrossed in my usual springtime art frenzy, preparing to participate in a local sci fi/fantasy convention’s art show and another show at a local shop. I had quite a few pieces planned that were Vodou-related, including two sculptures of Legba, La Siren, La Balenn and Agwe, whom I’ve never sculpted before.

The first Legba I finished this spring was the Old Man walking along a road with one of his dogs, although I sculpted both Legba faces at the same time, and was very happy with them. This was a sharp contrast from the struggles I sometimes have with faces, which can result in me becoming so frustrated that I will toss them in the garbage and begin anew. I was particularly pleased that both of the faces resembled Legba as he appeared in one of my dreams.

Sculpting clothing is not always super easy for me, yet when I worked on his jacket and pants, I kept having what artists call “happy accidents”—my hand would move and create a fold or movement of the fabric that was unplanned, but looked good. Now, normally, I would never consider putting one of my own pieces on my altars, because I would sit there and obsess over the flaws and shortcomings. This time, however, I was so happy with the completed piece that I thought about keeping him for my altar if he didn’t sell at the convention. Also finished for the convention was a La Balenn piece whose face turned out unusually lovely. I received a lot of compliments on both of them when I showed them to friends.

La Balenn did not sell at the convention, but Legba sold immediately after to a couple of friends who saw him in the art show there. (They tried to buy him at the show, but due to a change in the art show hours, they were not able to purchase him before it closed.) It makes me smile to think of Legba in their home.

Then my focus shifted to finishing the pieces for the shop show. I decided to do a Native La Siren, as that is how she appeared to me the one time that I saw her. I was not sure exactly how to sculpt Agwe, so I had a loose plan to create him as a merman wearing an admiral’s jacket. However, he had other things in mind. I kept receiving flashes of images in my head, and realized that yes, he did want to be portrayed as a merman, but rather than the uniform he opted to have coral extruding from his back and crowning his head. Although I was working on my pieces up to the last minute, I never really got stressed out. It seemed that every time I got stuck on something, the answer would pop into my head and I was able to move on. Sometimes my hands felt guided, to the point that I don’t feel that I can take all of the credit for the way the art turned out. It was more of a collaboration between the Lwa and me.

When Agwe was completed, he also received many compliments. During the artist opening reception, one of my regular buyers whom I had never met before came in and bought the entire marine Lwa set (La Siren, La Balenn and Agwe). He wanted the seated Legba piece I had there too, but a friend had already spoken for it, so this gentleman commissioned a new one. (I have to smile when I think of Legba and the 3 marine Lwa displayed in his home; I won’t be surprised if they all start showing up there.) Another previous buyer whom I had never met came in and purchased a Sekhmet wall piece of mine. During the following weeks when my art was on display, a couple of local Santeria folks saw Agwe and loved him so much that they commissioned one like it.

Overall, this is probably the most successful art show I’ve had to date, as far as sales are concerned. I reflected back on the nom vayan (“valiant name”) that my initiatory mother gave me at my batem (“baptism”). It translates into “Legba creates my vision,” and he certainly has outdone himself this time.

If you haven’t already read it, my lovely initiatory mother has written a wonderful piece on magickal names in Vodou, which explains them better than I can here. All’s I can say is it certainly worked for me! Honor to her, Papa and the Lwa. Ayibobo!

Norwescon 37 thoughts

Posted in Art with tags , , , , on April 24, 2014 by cheshirecatman

I had a really good time at Norwescon last weekend, even though I missed out on most of Thursday’s events due to exhaustion. I did not attend at all on Friday as I had another commitment in Seattle on Friday night.

There have been many years when it’s rained while I’ve brought art into the hotel or taken it out, and this year was no exception. Thursday was very wet. Setting up my table went smoothly, and I opted to leave early rather than stay for the artist reception. I’d spent the past several days sculpting like a maniac, and I wanted to rest up before the weekend got into full swing.

Saturday I got to see Michael Moorcock and listen to him read from one of his books. I also got to attend readings by local authors Keffy R.M. Kehrli and Nisi Shawl.

If you’ve never read or listened to Keffy’s work, you are missing out. This guy has a really wicked sense of humor and the knack of finding creative ways to reflect that in his story concepts. The first time I heard him read was last year. The story was about a young woman explaining to her mom that she’d trapped a zombie in her washing machine. (“Machine Washable,” you can hear it here.) This year’s story was about peeps. Yes, peeps, those gooey marshmallow confections (and how appropriate for Easter weekend). The concept? A woman whose divination technique involves peeps. I am not going to tell you more; you really need to read it. Here’s his website and the story in question is titled: “Gazing into the Carnauba Wax Eyes of the Future.”

Nisi Shawl read an excerpt from her upcoming novel “Everfair,” which was described in the convention guidebook as “a Belgian Congo steampunk novel.” That description was enough to make me check out her reading, and I wasn’t sorry. The plot of the novel involves socialists and missionaries creating an idealized settlement in the Congo and the interaction between these people and the resident Africans. The excerpt she read was about one of the settlers watching a Congo group interrogating some prisoners, and their techniques definitely had elements of African Traditional Religion/Voodoo in it. Very cool stuff, and I can’t wait for the novel to be released.

One of the panels I attended in the afternoon was about Intersectionality. Things were progressing along nicely until the topic of profiling by various agencies came up. There was an older white guy in the audience who, wouldn’t you know, worked for TSA. He became very angry and stated (and I mean stated as if it were an irrefutable FACT) that the TSA never engages in profiling and that type of abuse never happens. After all, they have rules they have to follow and he’d never witnessed it in all his years of experience, never mind that he was completely disregarding other people’s lived experiences, including those of all of the panelists. I also don’t know how he kept track of what went on in all of the airports in the United States 24/7.  He was angry enough that it felt as though there was the potential for possible physical violence, but fortunately the panelists (particularly Sheye Anne Blaze and Amber Clark) were able to defuse the situation by calmly acknowledging his feelings without denying the actual facts. Par for the course, the powder keg that is ever-present whenever discussions of oppression occur, especially when it involves race. (I may be writing more on a related topic soon, but we’ll see.)

Other miscellaneous stuff: I was supposed to meet up with two local friends on Saturday, but it never really happened. I did manage to see one of them when we ran into each other at breakfast, but we could not find each other later in spite of the fact that he was dressed in a rather distinctive costume (but doesn’t carry a cell phone). The other friend had an unexpected mini crisis to deal with so never even came to the con on Saturday.

I am hoping that next year I can be on site for the full four days and am attempting to get an early start on next year’s art projects. I am not great on time management though, so we’ll see how that goes, plus I have other commissions and projects to work on, including two that just came up yesterday.  Best laid plans and all that…..

An interview with playwright Shawn C. Harris

Posted in Art, Legba with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2014 by cheshirecatman


On occasion, I like to feature artists, writers, filmmakers and other creative people on this blog. Today’s focus is on theatre.

Shawn C. Harris is a playwright from Richmond, VA who has written, developed, and produced plays in NYC’s indie theatre scene. A passionate advocate for improving diversity in theatre, her works consistently feature strong roles for women, people of color, and LGBTQ people.

Shawn’s plays include ENCANTA, TULPA, OR ANNE&ME, THE ROSE KNIGHT, and a variety of short pieces. Her work has been featured at The Cell Theatre’s Blackboard Plays reading series and WOW Cafe Theatre.
Since 2008, she has been writing essays and sharing resources about theatre, social justice, and diversity on her blog, Love’s Labors Lost.

In 2010, Shawn founded Crossroads Theatre Project to develop plays that challenge assumptions about what African diaspora theatre is and what it can be. Through Crossroads Theatre Project, Shawn’s full-length play, TULPA, OR ANNE&ME, received its world premiere at the 3rd annual Planet Connections Theatre Festivity.

Crossroads Theatre Project is currently developing her next play, ENCANTA, for production.

Thanks for being here, Shawn. In one of our conversations, you mentioned that the Crossroads Theatre Project was named after Eshu/Legba/Ellegua. Can you tell us a little bit about that? It seems fitting, Legba being the lwa of communications, among other things.

The way I make sense of it is that Eshu builds connections and exchanges between people, places, words, realities, and ideas. This can make him complex and sometimes paradoxical. Sometimes helping, sometimes harming. Sometimes fun, sometimes terrifying. I think that many times people simplify that by calling him a trickster, but I prefer to think of him as a guide into new ways of perceiving and understanding. Simply by being what he is, he challenges fixed notions of identity and perception.

It is likewise with Black identity. Black people, and therefore Black theatre, are not just one thing. Blackness is often seen as monolithic, so that tends to mean that people often simplify what Black humanity, and therefore Black art, is or can be about.

Crossroads Theatre Project is my way of giving space to the spirit of what Eshu represents while also rooting it in Blackness and in the intersections of Blackness and other identities.

I really love the way you just described him. You’ve obviously done a fair amount of research into African Traditional Religions. Is there one particular branch that interests you more than others, and do you see yourself one day traveling down that path?

I’ve committed to another path, but one of the things I wish to bring to my current practice is a sensibility rooted in African spirituality such as diunital cognition.

Let’s talk about your latest project, “Encanta.” I was trying to think of how to describe it and came up with romantic fantasy comedy with a touch of swashbuckler. How would you describe it? It doesn’t fit neatly into one category.

“Romantic fantasy” is a good way to describe it. I don’t particularly worry about how to label it genre-wise. I prefer to say what the play is about and let that speak for itself. Once people get to the part where the play is about a pirate and a sorceress falling in love, I hope it’s pretty obvious that I’m not dealing with a slice-of-life drama.

I love the humor throughout the script, even during the more dangerous scenes. Was it originally conceived that way or did you ever consider writing it as straight drama?

It was originally conceived to be lighthearted and funny.

At the beginning of the script, you mention that all parts can be played by trans and genderqueer people. I take it you put that right up front to keep that prominent in any potential director’s mind?

I wrote these characters so that trans and genderqueer people could play them, so that trans and genderqueer people can imagine themselves in these roles. A director grasping that point was a secondary, but still important, consideration.

For the record, it was not a Herculean task to make these roles inclusive of trans and genderqueer people. It wasn’t even difficult. So anyone claiming that it’s oh so hard to write roles for trans and genderqueer people is making excuses.

In your scene descriptions, you cast we the audience as part of the crowd on the street, or neighbors across the street, etc. We are participants in the world of the play. Is there a nonstandard way you visualize producing this play? Would you prefer to produce it in, say, a large room rather than the standard stage which separates audience from the cast? What inspired you to do this?

I don’t see it working well with a proscenium stage. I’d prefer something a lot more porous that combines the art with, say, commerce. A black box theatre can do that, but I would honestly prefer to stage this play outdoors in the midst of some arts and crafts fair or something.

Natural elements play a key role in some scenes. How do you visualize presenting those in your play, especially if you are in an outdoor venue? Would you use props, rely on dialog, or some combination of both?

There are ways to do it, but that’s the director’s job. It won’t work the same way it does in film, where the camera tells you everything. On stage, you’d have to use your imagination more actively.

One of the things I love about theatre is that the power of suggestion is much more potent. So you can take mundane objects like, say, a bath towel, and sort of transform them into other things. That same bath towel can be a superhero cape, a wig of long hair, a baby wrapped in a bundle, or something else entirely.

I really like the way romance and love is presented in this script. Women love women, men love men, and it’s just the way it is without any social stigma. The woman/man combo is not presented as the norm. Does your desire to contribute to a more accepting world affect the type of setting in your work (i.e., fantasy rather than contemporary)?

Not consciously. I just wanted fun, romance, and magic because I’m interested in that. I wanted something that came from my own experience and things I’m interested in without having to justify it.

I was far more deliberate about all the characters being Latino and Afro-Latino and opening all these roles to trans and genderqueer people.

You probably get this question all the time, but what advice would you give aspiring playwrights and other creative folks, especially those who are members of marginalized groups?

I don’t like giving advice. I find that most people have more wisdom about their situation than I ever could. But one piece of advice that has worked for me is to never take on debt to make theatre.

If you would like to read more from Shawn, check out her blog Love’s Labors Lost.



Spring updates

Posted in Art, Uncategorized on March 20, 2014 by cheshirecatman

It’s a somewhat cold first day of Spring here in Seattle. Spring is my crazy busy season, which is why I haven’t been posting much. With Norwescon just around the corner (less than a month away, yikes) and another art show opening on the same weekend, I am nearing full blown panic mode. I have most of my pieces in progress but nothing fully completed as of this writing. I am not sculpting many Vodou-themed pieces this time around, but may post pics of one piece that is coming along nicely. I am also experimenting with this Crackle stuff for creating scales (thank you Mambo Pat for introducing me to it) which should save a huge amount of time when sculpting mermaids.

I have a few posts still percolating in the back of my mind, plus an interview and a guest post slated for the near future, so stay tuned.

Jean Appolon Expressions dance company

Posted in Art, Dance, Haiti, Vodou with tags , , , on February 21, 2014 by cheshirecatman

“Based in Boston, JAE is a Haitian contemporary dance company, directed by Jean Appolon. Combining Modern technique, Haitian folkloric dance and live traditional drumming, JAE brings a new artistic vernacular to its audiences. With its dynamic repertoire, JAE educates audiences about Haitian culture, traditions, history and current issues. JAE fulfills its mission to preserve Haitian folkloric culture while constantly pushing the art form forward to remain vital, accessible, inspiring and educational.”

Check out their blog. There’s a wonderful video section where you can hear traditional rhythms and treat yourself to some Haitian dance.

A beautiful soul leaves this world too soon

Posted in Art, Legba, lwas, Vodou with tags , , , , , , on August 1, 2013 by cheshirecatman

I realized today that I had not heard from one of my Facebook friends for a while. Thinking that I was simply not receiving her posts, I went over to her page and discovered, much to my dismay, that she had crossed over in June. She was only 28.

Some of my longtime readers know her as Saundra Elise Ziyatdinov, the talented artist of Erzulie Red Eyes Art and Spirit. Her Papa Legba painting graces the wall above his altar in my home. I remember when I bought it from her; the price was very reasonable so you can imagine my surprise when it arrived in the mail fully framed. That’s how she was, generous of spirit and kind of heart.

Rest in peace, dear friend, your struggles are over. Much love, until we meet again.

Beautiful new card deck and an online class

Posted in Art, Divination, Psychic, Religion, Ritual, Sekhmet, Vodou with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2013 by cheshirecatman

For me, feelings of depression or stagnancy are signs that my spirit is malnourished. One of the ways I deal with this is by finding new things to learn.

Nefer Khepri’s Egyptian Lenormand Deck

My friend Nefer Khepri has just created and published her Egyptian Lenormand card deck. These beautiful cards feature original art hand drawn by Nefer herself using channeled images and colors traditional to the Egyptians. Nefer serves several Egyptian deities in her practice (including my beloved Sekhmet) and has a PhD in Latin American Studies (Mayan Iconography and Epigraphy). She has run her Magickal Musings business since 1998.

The deck is priced reasonably at $33.15 (Price includes  shipping, a clear protective case and an attractive satin draw string bag. Shipping is slightly more for addresses outside the U.S.). The deck can be used with the traditional Lenormand meanings and spreads, but Nefer has included some additional cards and interpretations unique to her deck. The deck is in limited supply and I don’t know if there will be a second printing or not. The last time I heard, it was nearing 50 percent sold out.

Sosyete du Marche Four Circles Online Class

The wonderful Mambo Pat and Sosyete du Marche have begun offering online Vodou lessons (click the link above). These classes include links to exclusive online video and a forum where you can discuss class material. While classes are not a substitute for attending services or working with a house  in person, there are still many things a solitary person can do to serve the lwa and I think this is a valuable resource for those who do not live near a sosyete. Even though I have a local group, I am planning to sign up for the class anyway because I know there is more I can learn (plus I love Sosyete du Marche, as I’ve said before on this blog). Class begins May 15 and the price is $150, which includes access to the videos and copies of Mambo Pat’s book “Serving the Spirits: The Religion of Haitian Vodou” and her CD “La Priye Ginen: The Prayer of Africa.”

Happy learning! Ayibobo!