The Hidden Face of African Fetishes / Philippe Charlier

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This statue says everything about this African woman. Her social position, her seat, her strength, her fertility. In her, rigor and wisdom, strength and beauty. Bones, muscles and scarifications. Roughness and sensuality. Violence and caress. Massive feet and opulent chest. In the hand of the artist, as in the eye of the beholder (initially a devotee … now an art lover), there is obviously everything and its opposite, the magic of the extremes, the wisdom of the curves mastered and harmonious volumes, there is the soul of this woman (an ancestor? a princess? a wandering spirit?) locked in this piece of wood, ready to tell her life (her lives?) to whom that could ask her …

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You are lost if you think that the world is devoid of any spirit, any ghost, any form of divinity or supernatural entities that spend their time traveling on the surface of the ground. We do not see them? One could, if focused, and even more if one is initiated. This dogon mask (Mali) says all of this difficult materialization of wandering spirits, these forms of life that play with nature (and men). Here a rabbit, or a hare, in any case an animal mind whose shape and aspect are changeable, fuzzy, with tenuous limits, just like the witch-men who knew how to conquer this power of metamorphosis and dissimulation. The world has no limit, no boundary, no border. Everything is continuous, in transition more or less sensitive. There is a continuous chain of animals to us, from the living to the dead, from the past to the future (then the present does not exist: at once we have finished saying the name it already belongs in the past…). This mask is not only the face of a rabbit-man, it is a cosmogony, a metaphysics, a state of mind: when you think you are alone, a whole crowd of erring spirits are around you.

Philippe Charlier, MD, PhD, LittD, is a forensic practitioner and anthropologist. He works on representations of the human bodies, and rituals related to diseases and death. He loves words, and more.

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