Transcendence, Submersion, and Suspension
Three Vodou spirits appear in Edouard Duval-Carrié’s large 2007-2009 sculptural installation Le Monde des Ambaglos (The World of the Underwaters): Manbo Inan, Agwe, and Èzili Freda. They are suspended in boats atop water, transient and transcendent, trans in multifaceted ways, some gendered, amidst and traversing the abode of the lwa (spirits) in Haitian Vodou. The crossing of water or the submergence in water is one of the religion’s most powerful metaphors/tropes/experiences. This article discusses these matters at length, along with the identities and cults of the three lwa featured. In fluid iterations, they cross binary gender norms in ways that reflect Vodou’s liberative and expansive meanderings of spirit, sexuality, and space – meanderings that, of course, began in West Africa and West Central Africa, in Ginen. There are also important Catholic fluidities to consider here, especially a range of Marian devotions. Altogether, our discussion requires attention to both the transatlantic trade of enslaved persons and to the experience of Haitian seafaring migrants (botpipèl) on perilous journeys to hopefully better lives, and thoughts about Mary, who is obviously deeply related to the sea in Catholicism (think Stella Maris, La Virgen de Caridad del Cobre, and Columbus’ ship La Santa María, which wrecked off the coast of Haiti in 1492). Anthropology, Art Criticism, Religious Studies, and Historiography are the disciplinary approaches entailed in our analysis and interpretation, along with considerations of relevant gender theory.
We publish these articles as the museums consolidate into one nominal entity, het Wereldmuseum: since the articles were written between 2020 and 2023, they do not yet reflect the March 2023 name change.
All contributors called into the Un/Engendering research project were asked to think outside their respective specializations. Without their courage, openness, humility, and without the peer reviewers’ generous attention, such an interdisciplinary project could have never taken place.
Image: Edouard Duval-Carrié, Le Monde des Ambaglos (Mambo Inan), 2007-2009. Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen. Coll.nr. AM-681-1a. © Edouard Duval-Carrié. Mondriaan Fonds. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Author | Terry Rey
Formerly Professeur de sociologie des religions at Université d’État d’Haïti, Terry Rey is Professor of Religion at Temple University. He is the author of dozens of scholarly articles, chapters, and reviews, and author or editor of seven books, including Bourdieu on Religion: Imposing Faith and Legitimacy (Routledge 2007) and The Priest and the Prophetess: Abbé Ouvière, Romaine Rivière, and the Revolutionary Atlantic World (Oxford 2017).