Damon Devani – AZACA, SUSTENANCE, LONGEVITY

 

DAMON DEVANI

AZACA, SUSTENANCE, LONGEVITY — 2017

Glass bottle, assorted herbs and produce, paper, beads, blood, fake mustache, bottlecaps, floss

Azaca is an agriculturally focused lwa widely loved for the produce he encourages. Following suit, this bottle has been stuffed with breadcrumbs, olive oil, and home-grown basil; all of which are produce in offering. Azaca serves a variety of related roles and is a reliable backbone to the Vodou belief system. This bottle reflects these very same qualities built upon the notion of blood, sweat, and tears for a stable future.

Within Haitian Vodou there are dozens of Lwa, spiritual figures similar to gods. With that said, the quantifier ‘dozens’ is a bit misleading. In reality, there are countless interpretation of each Lwa. The Lwa maintain certain traits central to their character, though take on different roles and activities to fit the community they are celebrated within. My bottle art focuses on Azaca, the agriculture Lwa and one of the most widely accepted and adored.

The basis for this bottle lies within. Stuffed with home grown basil and wrapped by a vine on the outside, the bottle encompasses that which is growth. The basil also serves a double-purpose, as Azaca is also known to carry around bunches of herbs on his person. The ‘homegrown’ sentiment is somewhat stale in Western culture. It is a term that tends to be associated with a tomato plant on the windowsill. Within Haitian however, many communities composed of Vodou practitioners rely heavily on agriculture to survive. It is this essence of survival that lends power to Azaca, and the basil that represents him within and around my bottle. In addition, bread crumbs are present. A more literal symbol of agriculture to be melded with the basil.

The focus of both the class and this piece is Haitian Vodou, however Haiti is not the only site of Vodou beliefs. I wrapped black beads around the bottle as both a manner of strapping other objects to the bottle and more importantly paying homage to the Vodou practitioners within New Orleans, beads being light symbolism for the city. In addition to the beads, the fleur de lis is placed upon the bottle as well. A symbol of both New Orleans and arguably the slavery that built the city. Much like New Orleans, Vodou was cultivated through trans-Atlantic slavery.

Slavery is not a terribly positive note, but it is one that is prevalent in Haitian Vodou. Blood is an integral component to farm work, thus the phrase ‘blood, sweat, and tears’. Of course, it is not literal blood in the phrase nor the bottle (I don’t believe the Core would be thrilled if it was). It is the concept of hard work at a cost. Vodou is steeped in a cost/reward paradigm which is not seen in many popular faiths that portray absolute reward. Upon death, one may be called to work in the world of the living as a vessel.

The concept of refinement is somewhat lost within the Vodou’s artistic and spiritual communities. That is not to say there is any lack of capability, but rather, that Vodou tends to grow in communities that subsist largely on found objects. The art follows suit. The mustache is certainly more along this ‘found objects’ line. It is also representative of growth, and the patriarchal society that Haiti is.

Bottle-caps are admittedly a rather cliched take on found objects, though that does not detract from their significance. Bottle-caps are a universally understood symbol of industrialization. ‘Pop open a fresh Coca-Cola on a hot day’ is a phrase that has permeated nearly every country in the world. The caps strung about my bottle point towards the scavenger nature of Vodou, it is a religion that has culminated from imposed Christian beliefs upon many west African ones. With regards to Azaca, the soda can is a bastardization. A turn from agrarian lifestyle to a hyper-synthetic one. Furthermore, the faith itself is a scavenger of sorts. This is not a criticism, the word ‘scavenger”s negative connotations are not intended in this case. Rather, it is an observation on the circumstances through which Vodou emerged; no better illustrated than bottle-caps strung about a bottle of assorted spiritual artifacts.

The floss is a makeshift adhesive. Haiti is a land that has been used up. The forests cut down, livestock destroyed. ‘Found objects’ is far more than an art style, it’s not even a way of life. It is the way of life. Businesses are slow to start and even slower to grow.  Much like the practitioners of Vodou use what they can find, so don’t I.

The aforementioned bastardization and contrary reverence of Azaca comes to mind. With little to nothing to farm left in Haiti, the communities need him more than ever. Urban societies such as New Orleans are in the same position. Where wealth is not afforded, scavenging becomes a way of life. Even with the loss of land in mind, this bottle and the Vodou faith’s fierce loyalty to Azaca stand testament to the agrarian lifestyle that is relished, even in a world where technology is seemingly ubiquitous.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Damon Devani – AZACA, SUSTENANCE, LONGEVITY

  1. Emily Tiche

    I found your paper to be very interesting especially as I am someone who absolutely loves New Orleans and its culture and considers it to be one of the most unique and vibrant cities in the world. In my CORE class, Gods, Ghosts, and Ancestors, I did my project on Chinese Festivals and the traditions, activities, and customs that accompany them. Your paper really made me stop and think about the bastardization that occurs during Chinese and if they even consider it bastardization. Haiti and China are obviously two very different places. China has seen much more technological change over the years than Haiti so I wonder, if Haiti were as technologically advanced as China, if they would still take such an agrarian stance on their bottle art or if they would incorporate more synthetic components intentionally and modernize their traditions. While Chinese festivals have managed to maintain the same meanings and customs as they were founded on (some for thousands of years!), they have gotten flashier, more synthetic, and more modern as their society advanced technologically.

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  2. Tatiana Princivil

    At first glance the dominant black colors and the bones attached to the side of your bottle made me think this bottle was made to honor Ghede. However your incorporation of the basil definitely makes this makes this a bottle for Azaka, the lwa of ‘the harvest’. I also appreciate your use of bottle caps and floss on your bottle. Haiti is a country majorly lacking in resources and the majority of their art is composed of found objects.

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