- Riding With Death: Vodou Art and Urban Ecology by Jana Evans Braziel, and: Spiritual Citizenship: Transnational Pathways from Black Power to Ifá in Trinidad by N. Fadeke Castor, and: Migration and Vodou by Karen E. Richman
The surge in monographs focusing on study of Black Atlantic religions in the past decade is changing the intellectual landscape of how scholars can now research and teach about Caribbean religions. While ethnographic studies of these traditions continue to dominate the field, scholars are finding inter-disciplinary entry points and conversations partners to frame their presentation of the complex and trans-national nature of these religions. In addition, scholars are engaging different sources to tell the story and expression of these religions. Three recent books published in the field demonstrate the increasing role of the aesthetic and material objects in the study of Caribbean religion.
Jana Evans Braziel’s Riding With Death: Vodou Art and Urban Ecology, focuses on the Haitian art collective Atis Rezistans (Artists of the Resistance) and the ways in which their work is both an expression of and a reaction to Haiti’s contemporary globalized environment. Atis Rezistans, or Grand Rue artists as they are also called, have an emphasis on environmentalism and ecological concerns. Their sculptural, multimedia art uses waste and post-consumer materials, such as automobile parts and old tires, as a means of raising awareness. In addition, themes of economic injustice, access to education, marginalization, and disenfranchisement saturate their work. Ultimately, the book argues for the essential role of aesthetics in ethics and justice, demonstrating the ways in which Atis Rezistans’ art raises the life and death issues that plague the Haitian community. The presence of Vodou, both in the artist’s work and in Haitian culture as a whole, is a thread that runs throughout the text.
At the core of the author’s arguments are three theses: that the artists’ movement described in the text is a direct product of the social, [End Page 175] economic, political, and cultural landscape of contemporary Haiti; that the art created by the collective reflects a sense of Haitianness; third that the artists lay claims to the city of Port-Au-Prince through the aesthetic production of the city. At the core of their work is the interplay of the production of an individual artist and the ways in which said art creates, challenges, and inhabits communal space. In addition to contextualizing Atis Rezistans in light of the broader Haitian context, the author also situates the collective in light of Caribbean artistic movements as a whole. The theme of “precarious life” also runs through the text, highlighting the systemic marginalization of Haitian peoples, highlighted by unemployment, homelessness, and political disenfranchisement.
This interdisciplinary text draws on multiple fields with a heavy theoretical emphasis. The first two chapters offer a detailed account of contemporary landscape drawing from theorists such as Henri Lefebvre and Jurgen Habermas. While the intention is to introduce the reader to Haiti today, these chapters focus too heavily on theoretical debates and details regarding how the art can be situated in light of these frameworks. The art and lived reality of contemporary Haitians at times gets lost in the mix. The authors also do not explore the potential problematics of situating contemporary Haiti in light of these non-Haitian academic constructions. Chapter 3 centers on an analysis of Grand Rue art through the lens of art history. Chapter 4 introduces the term Vodou bricolage to explore the manner in which religious symbols plays a role in the artists’ work and the ways in which the loa are depicted through post-consumer materials. Chapter 5 continues the theme of Vodou by exploring its uses in their...