a beautiful group of minkisi, or power fi gures,
many of which have not been publicly shown
since the Medusa exhibition ten years ago. The
ambivalent fi gure of Mami Wata is shown in
a variety of ways, including a fi ne and brightly
colored mask collected by Himmelheber (fi g. 12).
Lastly, the importance of twins, which are seen as
connected with the divine, is emphasized through
the presentation of a Dogon twin altar from Mali
and a pair of Yoruba ibeji from Nigeria.
T.A.M.: Aren’t all of these religions susceptible to
outside infl uences?
B.W.: Yes. In sub-Saharan Africa, one is born,
one lives, and one dies in an inevitable religious
context. Religion is not just about embracing a
faith, it is a way of life in which multiple realities
coexist. Even if you are Christian or Muslim, you
are exposed to magic, sorcery, and spirits.
Franck Houndégla’s immersive presentation
makes the point of such absence or barriers
extremely well. This Beninese artist brings a
special sensitivity to this project since he is so
close to this universe, which he knows and loves.
The result is a relatively open exhibition space
that allows visitors to circulate freely, moving
from one reality to another just by shifting their
glance. Another contemporary artist, Theo
Eshetu’s installations all have a soundtrack, as do
several videos, and these sound sources scattered
throughout the exhibition intentionally distract
from overly focused perceptions of single objects.
We have attempted to present and stage
the complexity of the religious phenomena in
Africa and to show the more or less harmonious
cohabitation of diverse realities. We have also
tried to evoke the characteristically African
superimposition of the religious and the profane,
at least within certain contexts. In many
traditional African religions, particularly in rural
areas but in towns as well, religious events may
have major festivals. Theo Eshetu masterfully
expresses this in his Trip to Mount Zuqualla
video installation, in which great hubbub and
commotion occur both while a pilgrimage of
believers is underway and during states of trance.
This confusion of sounds may seem odd and
surprising to the Western visitor, who customarily
associates solemn surroundings with the practice
T.A.M.: You mentioned Theo Eshetu, the
Ethiopian artist whose work has been seen
at major contemporary art events such as
Documenta in Kassel and Athens. As in most
of MEG’s recent temporary exhibitions,
photography, electronic media, and contemporary
art are prominently featured here. Is this
approach a “hallmark” of the museum’s
B.W.: Yes, absolutely. But it’s not just some sort
of marketing strategy. It comes from a deep
conviction that as many perspectives as possible
are needed in order to explore subjects that
blend art, society, and culture. The success of an
exhibition like Amazonia (more than 100,000
visitors at the MEG and 210,000 in Montreal) is,
in my opinion, due to this multiplicity of voices.
In Africa: The Religions of Ecstasy, engaging
different types of vocabularies (especially
photography and video) was at least as
important to me as showing traditional cultural
objects that, even when displayed as well as
they can be, are silent and thus inadequate
for expressing the experience that using them
FIG. 10 (below): Jacques
orimbatu, 1940. Marovala,
MEG, inv. ETHPH 407198.
Donated by Véronique Guérin-
Faublée in 2008.