Altars: Black Queer Spirit Work
I encountered Vodou as a queer Nigerian living and working in Haiti between 2010 and 2016, in the midst of rampant evangelicalism and associated homophobia and anti-Vodoun violence. In Vodoun I discovered a black queer space of beauty; both historical and contemporary resistance; the Black Atlantic, those Diasporic crossings that speak to the “Persistence of Blackness”. Vodoun performs as a counter normative, where identities such as gender, race, sexual orientation are not central to relationships between humans, between humans and spirits or between humans and other species. It is this intersection of queerness, Diaspora, resistance and persistence of blackness that has informed the series “Spirit Desire”.
Spirit Desire is a series of visual essays that explore African Diasporic spiritual practices and those in-between spaces, above and below, visible and invisible that constitute the many worlds that exist in harmony.
“Spirit Desire: – Resistance, Imagination and Sacred Memories in Haitian Vodoun” is the first in the series and is a celebration of Haitian Vodoun as a site of resistance, decolonization and community. The series which includes images of everyday living, ritual and ceremony, aims to shift the gaze from representations that depict Vodoun as negative and present a decolonizing narrative: one in which Vodouisants engage with a consciousness and spirituality that celebrates our humanity rather than focusing on a set of prescribed normative identities.
In “Spirit Desire: The Vernacular of Freedom, and the Politics of Rescue in Queer Futures” my collaborator, Laura Wangari, and I contemplate the centrality of spiritual practice for queer people of African heritage. We spent four weeks with each other and with friends and fellow travelers, talking, chewing, drinking, laughing, dancing, cooking, and eating our way to understanding who we were, who we are, the contradictions in these spaces and times, and our spiritual selves. We see our many spiritual practices as acts of decolonization – ‘freedom narratives’.
This work is important as a cultural intervention that engages with the erasure of black queer voices from narratives of spirituality, narratives of the sacred, narratives of religious practice, narratives of the Africas, of the Diaspora and the aftermath of slavery. Specifically I will explore the constructions of altars, both permanent and temporary; forms of ritual whether faith based or spiritual; engagement with and creation of new Diasporic beliefs systems. For example altars are a way of creating communion with other black queer identified people, ancestors and racine spirits [those that originate in Africa]; although the pop up altars are communal and often public, there is an erotic poetics of intimacy and interiority during these moments which become spaces for radical belonging. Altars also work as a way of altering, to altar, to transform, to create anew.
My work is centered in queerness and by queer I mean multiple genders, sexualities, imagined African pasts and imagined futures, visible and invisibles, moments existing in and beyond time. As a way of exploring queerness and it’s relationship to spirituality and ritual practices and building on previous work, “Altars: Black Queer Spirit Work” will explore how we as black queer subjects engage with spiritual practice and create rituals as a way of formulating meaning; self-determining constructions of freedom and resistance through a constant state of reimagining queer realities.
I intend for this work to be a collaboration between myself as documentary photographer and the textual contribution of participants – myself and other black queer artists, activists, workers, academics, priests and priestess of Diaspora such as Ifá, Vodoun, Santería, Candomblé, Hoodoo and who are located in the southern states of the US.
The two altars below by artist, Kristina Kay Robinson “Temple of Color and Sound” from the New Orleans exhibition “The Rent is to Damn High” [April/May 2018] and the personal altar by scholar, Fahima Indigo [April 2018] both speak to the past, present and future of Blackness, it’s persistence in our spirits and life force, memory, ancestors and imagination for futurity invested in the Persistence of Blackness.
Temple of Color and Sound by Kristina Kay Robinson [from the exhibition “The Rent is to Damn High” New Orleans April/May 2018. ] Centered is a black Marie Laveau, unencumbered by commercialization and appropriation.
This altar is called the Temple of Sound. It’s working with multiple timelines at once so there is a timeline happening in the past, present and future that is not of this present world. Then there is another timeline of past, present and future that is definitely here and now. So on the more fantastical or other worldly its about me thinking about this territory of New Orleans as a place that potentially could have followed in Haiti’s footsteps just a few years later, like in 1811. We had the largest rebellion [of enslaved peoples] and was almost successful in a way that is not really discussed, how close we came to success. So it is imagining what would this have been if we had been the second black free republic. So the idea of that is called Republica and lots of the things that are present in New Orleans are also present in Republica, but there are some differences.
Then the timeline that is of the present which has it’s future in this world is thinking about all the places and stops I have made since Katrina, well really my whole life in New Orleans. So I have moved multiple multiple times since Katrina and I wouldn’t say I have had secure housing. So I am thinking about what does that space out on the street look like and what could it potentially look like if we are pushed out onto the street. Kristina Kay
Alter by Fahima Ife [Private alter, April 2018]
Each item represented earth, memory and light. As a whole the altar represented my loving connection with trees [mossy twig] rocks [crystals], plants and air [dried sage bundle], my lover [sunflowers] memory [my grandma’s tarot deck], healing [pink salt], and the merging of all four elements [abalone shell, + feather +ash]. All of this is quiet ritual. All of this is how I manipulate energy. All of this is how I magick as a black queer womxn. It’s important that I create my own reality because the dominant one in which I [sometimes] reside doesn’t nurture my spirit. The items the meaning in the altar are how I step outside this reality. Leaving is survival. Fahima