Boutey Vodou: Ode to the Crazy

project for Shaking the Spirit

In my core 330 class, shaking the spirits, we had to create our own Vodou related art project. Our canvas was a bottle; because of the significance bottles have in Vodou. They are symbolic of many things. Bottles can physically hold, contain, transport, and share things. These physical attributes of the bottle are metaphorical symbols as well. The bottle is a way to convey messages and beliefs, a visual representation, gift, or offering to a specific Lwa or message.

My bottle wasn’t an offering to any specific Lwa but rather a pwen bottle. This means my bottle aims to convey a certain message or idea. As you can see there are many different materials decorating my bottle, all with purpose and intent. The theme of my bottle is metal illness and aspects that typically go along with dealing with it. The wire/ fencing material represents a cage or barrier. They line the inside and outside of the bottle to show the idea of being trapped in and outside of the mind. Various pills and medicines are spread out over the bottle mainly for decoration but also to show how vigorous treating mental illnesses can be and how long it can take, seemingly forever. On one side of the bottle reads “Lunatic Fringe”. I included this cutout because I thought it helped show the feeling of being lost or confused, feeling like you could lose it at any moment. The constant feeling of being a lunatic that might never leave. The cigarette and knife are symbols of self-harm, commonly associated with various mental health problems. The picture at the top of the bottle of a skull and knife also relates to this concept.

This project was particularly intriguing because Vodou doesn’t really have any limits. There are goals and points, but Vodou is always changing, it has an ability to keep up with the times by its flexibility. Because of this the project was very open ended. We could have done a more traditional bottle, but really it could have been a bottle for anyone, anything, or any concept. I thought that it could be interesting to come up with a bottle that was dedicated to mental health. Without good mental health, it’s hard to be in good spirits.

I can further explain and simplify this project to people who do not have much knowledge on this topic by using something I learned in class. My professor, Steve Wehmeyer, taught us the “5 P’s” of Vodou early in the semester. The first “P” stands for pragmatic. Vodou deals with real life issues. Vodou doesn’t focus on an afterlife like many other faiths do. The next is polytheistic. There is no one god in this religion; it is made up of hundreds of gods and spirits. The third p stands for personal. Vodou is personal, its about you. The fourth is Possesion is possible. In Vodou it is totally possible for practitioners to become possessed by certain lwa. The final one is path to the priesthood. These 5 p’s of Vodou helped me think about what I should focus on in terms of goals for creating this bottle. The first p, pragmatic, made me want to choose something that was a real life problem. Something that people deal with here in this life. The personal aspect of Vodou also stood out to me a lot when crafting this project. Because Vodou is supposed to be personal, this project was as well. It didn’t have to be anything you didn’t want it to be. I kept these two “p’s” in mind in particular when making this bottle as I have mentioned. They reminded me what was at the core of Vodou and how I might go about creating my own personal bottle.

I hope anyone reading this was able to gather and gain some new information on Vodou by this post, hopefully the 5 P’s gave Vodou a little more background and context to my bottle. (click on photo to enlarge and view museum card)


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