BOTTLE FOR GEDE – 2017.
Glass bottle, fabric, mirrors, paper, sequins, beads, yarn
This bottle is for Gede, whose domain is death, sex, and the protection of children. These things are inevitable parts of life, and are often unwanted or unpleasant. This bottle represents the good and the bad of life and how we are all bound together by it. While we’re together, we might as well have some fun…
Gede is one of the lwa, a spirit who influences the lives of humans. Vodou is all about working with the spirits, serving them so that they in turn will serve you. In Haiti a bottle can be a work of art, a magic artifact, a tool, and an offering to a spirit. Bottles are vessels for water, rum, magic, and also ideas. The ideas in and around this bottle are representative of Gede and how he relates to death, sex, and life.
The skeletons on the bottle represent Gede. On one side you can see a skeleton drinking from a purple bottle. Gede is known for drinking rum infused with hot peppers, which to an ordinary living person would be completely unbearable. Drinking alcohol is a way to release inhibitions, but Gede probably doesn’t have any to begin with. The peppers in the run tie into the idea of “echofe”, or heating up. Heating up can be transformative, as in cooking, or passion in interpersonal relationships. Gede likes to push social boundaries, likes it when things get heated. The skeletons on the opposite side, the couple, are dancing intimately, their arms around each other, faces close together. This represents the sexual side of Gede. Sex is the conception of life, so Gede is present from beginning to end. The skeletons are Gede but also all of us, because we all live, love, and die. What makes life worthwhile is the spice we add to it.
The yarn at the top of the bottle is meant to look like twine or rope. This is a significant symbol in Haitian culture, it recalls the ropes used to bind slaves’ bodies. I chose this for the bottle because none of us chose to be born, and we are all bound to die. Sex is too often forced (rape), and pregnancy can be unwanted. Gede’s areas of influence are extremes and opposites, they can be a blessing or a curse. What makes Gede powerful is that he transforms the hard part of life into something we can live with. The skeletons on the bottle are Gede, but they are also all of us, because we are all dealing with the complications and pain of life.
The mirror in one of the Gede’s eyes is meant to show us reflected. Death is the great equalizer and it’s something we will all face, but there’s more to it. In vodou, the world of the dead lies beneath the surface of the ocean. The ocean is itself a mirror. When you look in, you see its depth, but you also see yourself reflected. A mirror looks inwards at itself and the viewer. We see ourselves in Gede, as the living and as the dead.
The reason the bottle is decorated in beads and sequins is to emphasize Gede’s lively and humorous personality. This description has been pretty dark and serious so far, but it’s important to remember that Gede loves to heat life up, changing it from raw, hard, and bitter to something palatable, maybe even enjoyable. Humor is the most important part of this (especially if that humor is macabre or overly sexual). Sexuality can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, and nobody wants to think about dying. Gede pulls out all our skeletons in the closet and lets us see how ridiculous life is. My sparkly, decorative additions were meant to make the scene on the bottle feel more like a party. Vodou ceremonies often seem like parties, people enjoying themselves, dancing, and singing. Gede wants people to enjoy life.
The colors and construction of the bottle has some significance. Purple and black are Gede’s colors, and he likes to be dressed up which makes the beads more appropriate. In Haitian culture, black is actually the color of life, and white is the color of death. Gede being a white skeleton on a black cloth shows that he is relevant to all aspects of human experience. It’s also very striking, the contrast really draws attention to itself (just like Gede does). I picked that particular piece of paper because of what’s written on the back (the part the viewer can’t see). It was a housing agreement, the terms and conditions that a tenant has to agree to before the landlord will let them live in the house. Poverty is everywhere in Haiti and lots of people struggle to meet the financial requirements the world puts on them. I think the idea that we place terms and conditions on the act of living, by putting necessities of life behind a paywall, is ridiculous in a lot of ways, which is why I cut up the agreement and turned it into dancing skeletons. The last color I used, red, was in the thread that hold the black fabric onto the bottle. Playing on the idea of the “red thread of fate”, I wanted to show that Gede brings people together. A death in the family is a time for people to congregate, sex and childbearing are the most intimate connections two people can experience, and a party is a time to enjoy the company of others. We share a fate and are making the journey together.