After reading positive reviews my curiosity was aroused. The Menil Collection is hosting an exhibit called "NeoHooDoo: Art For a Forgotten Faith." According to the Menil brochure, "the works in NeoHooDoo illuminate various ways of living in the present day Americas. They are an embodiment of ideas in the forms of the ritual and the sacred that come from this unique and vast cultural expanse, and they validate the spiritual as a foundation for the making of contemporary art." The NeoHooDoo Manifesto "believes that every man is an artist, and every artist is a priest." Hmmm, to draw from one's personal cultural experience in order to signify and add meaning to one's artistic endeavors; to elevate one's art to a form of worship; to be a conduit for the spectator to one's inner soul; well, this sounded intriguing to say the least.
Going in with an open mind, the first image that caused me to wonder was the entrance sculpture. It was an upside down liquor store neon sign with the tips of the toes of shoes woven around the empty dead extinguished light. Does this mean (my interpretation) that if alcohol is exalted, then one's world will be turned upside down, the light of spiritual illumination will be dulled, and one will be walking through life partially shod....only on the tips of one's toes? Therefore, one can never be fully grounded because liquor makes us lose our footing? OK, that makes sense....
The next sculpture was a very large gilded brass ring, which could easily be interpreted for wholeness, continuity, and beauty.
In another room, there were totem poles made out of tennis racket bags -- an easy leap to mass consumerism in the US and elevating sports to a form of idol worship. I actually thought this sculpture was quite clever and slightly ridiculous.
Not expecting to agree with the various artists' spiritual views was a given. It didn't mean that I couldn't appreciate the art form and process. However, by the time I had made the circuit to the last two galleries in the exhibit, I was truly disturbed. There was an almost life size photograph of a reclining nude with an enormous scar diagonally across her back. It was stitched together with red beads as if they were cascading from the wound. There was a short film with someone being repeatedly immersed in water...not a baptism, but a drowning. It was very hard to watch. Each turn of my head and it felt as if I was assaulted by something else -- screaming hatred and showing me the utter emptiness of the human soul in NeoHooDoo. The last straw (for me) was a sculpture of small graves set in the wall. The top layer of the grave was a thin film of transparent skin stitched in place with the same kind of stitches that held me together during my tomboyish childhood. It was just too vivid. The description card on the wall said that it was animal fiber sewn with surgical thread, but it looked like an ancient tribal ritualistic skinning of a human. The skin was transparent, and entombed in the tiny wall graves were shoes. If it was meant to be offensive, it worked.
Am I the only person who sees the total depravity of the human condition that accompanies elevating this form of "art?" Art that screams hate is exalted time and time again. Why? Is this type of art really meaningful to society? Why do I look at exhibits like this, and think that the emperor has no clothes? If every artist is a priest, then what kind of faith am I perpetuating?
I am a tiny voice.