Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Charly D'Almeida | African Voodoo

Today I would like to introduce you to one of West Africa's unsung heroes, Charly D'Almeida. Regarded by many as the "King of Africa". Charly is from the Republic of Benin, the origins of old Africa and the centre of African Voodoo. Many Africans off the continent are ashamed of the practices that are being performed back in West Africa but the traditional behaviour of those in Benin seem positively enlightening. This is a subject few would dare to tread but if we are to talk about contemporary African art the issue of Voodoo is central. For those living in West Africa the choice of religion is one thing but being born into traditional West Africa means belonging to a mystical community, with beliefs that stretch back as far as the origins of man. When a child is born in Burkina Faso a female member of the family will take the afterbirth and plant it in the family plot to introduce the child to Africa and insure that the land on the plot is fertile and fed. In this way a child is born into a mystical society whether he/she likes it or not. The advantage of this is that he/she has a true sense of belonging and tradition more so than those off the continent. We lack the sense of being/belonging and find ourselves caught up in a world or disinformation and unnecessary gadgets. Wanting for things, things of no genuine value. It would be foolish to tell you that we could learn a lot from West Africa after all who would listen? Can Voodoo be branded? Hell NO! Can the herbs used in rituals be packaged and sold over the counter...NO...NO...and once again NO. If I told you the herbs could cure Cancer, reduce tumours without destroying the body, would you listen? No. We are seemingly lost in our pursuit of playing God yet we run a mile if the word, "Voodoo" is uttered.

So, what is Voodoo? Is it a cult religion? No. It is simply a tradition passed down from generation to generation. Each family will have their own Voodoo. It is not centralised or governed. There are no leaders, no profiteers. Just imagaine a world without church/mosque and state. What seems interesting to me is that if your Grandfather was an evil man you as his decendent must follow in his footsteps. The path can never be broken and you must live comfortably with the blood you have been given. Try as you might your actions will speak louder than your words and the true you will appear. This is your fate, which has been handed down to you. Deny it if you must but to ignore it would be foolish.

Life is merely a series of rituals as is art. Nobody makes this clearer than Charly D'Almeida, who unashamably tells his audience that he uses Voodoo in his work and constantly reminds them where he is from. In his paintings he uses the soil found in Abomey or Ouidah and mixes it up to use as paint. A lot of his canvas' have a wonderful orangie-brown quality to them that can only been found in African soil. His canvases are especially made in Cotonou and carefully woven. Cola nuts are crushed and used as pigments throughout his work, which is no surprise as Cola nuts have been traditionally used as a dye. In his sculptural work Charly is a city-comber finding interesting objects to redesign. "Recycled art", if you must, but all the items are carefully chosen and taken from the area of great importance to old and new Africa; from places like Abomey, Cotonou, Port Novo and the original Kingdom of Benin. It is not by accident more by design that Charly is once again echoing the importance of the power of West Africa. By searching and recycling from his African Kingdom he is creating a new vision.

Charly is true to himself and proud of where he is from. When they come to write the history books on contemporary Africa I trust that people like Charly are far from forgotten.

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