Monday, May 15, 2017

Protection or Superstition?

Yesterday I was reading the Sunday Seattle Times and stumbled on an article about Nigerian hunters who were going after Boko Haram militants. Most of us have been following the story of the schoolgirls who were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists in 2014. Since then the government of Nigeria has sent soldiers out to attack and kill the Islamic terrorists. Once the military started chasing the terrorists, however, they retreated to remote forest hideouts. The soldiers need help finding water and shade as they pass through unfamiliar terrain and that's where the hunters come in. The hunters are well acquainted with the remote forest areas and they want revenge for the death of an elderly leader of their group. They are actually guiding the soldiers to the terrorists. The hunters are just one of many civilian vigilante groups that have joined the fight against Boko Haram.


Abba Balomi, a hunter in Maiduguri, Nigeria wearing amulets and carrying a gun.

What caught my eye was a photograph of one of the hunters wearing the sort of African amulets that I have read about in Africa Adorned by Angela Fisher. Many West African hunters wear a special garment, called a batakari, covered in amulets to protect them on a hunt or at war. The amulets look like little leather packages and they are stuffed with sacred writing from the Koran. Since one of the themes in my own work is protection, I have spent a lot of time reading about protective garments and talismans from other cultures.

This is Chief Atoge Zangwio, a respected Kasena village chief wearing his batakari and hat covered with leather packages.

The article in the paper mentioned the hunter’s amulets and described them as lucky necklaces and  superstitious. It also described a quilted cloth vest made to resemble a bulletproof vest that this hunter wears.“The items give him a sense of protection” is a quote from the article. It also mentioned that when they recover trophies from the Boco Haram hideouts, cash, phones and the insurgents good luck charms, they destroy them. The hunters are also Muslim, but they are the good guys.

Notice the amulets on his belt and quilted vest.

I find it interesting that the author of the article, Dionne Searcey from the New York Times took an interest in not only the weapons carried by the hunters but also their protective garments and jewelry. What one culture finds superstitious, another's finds empowering.  Wearing words from the Koran on armor is an old custom and widespread in the Muslim world. 

Below is a helmet from Iran, early 19th century, decorated with sacred writing from the Koran.

Below is one of my necklaces, Scalped, made in 2010. The cylinders at the bottom contain powerful writing intended to ward of the evil spirits of cancer. I believe if an amulet makes you feel better or stronger, it's working.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Vicious Circus

I recently went through images of old work searching for examples that are relevant
to the current political climate in this country.

 Broken Trust is made of silver, copper, class, gemstones and American currency.

  My first work about American politics is titled, Broken Trust.  I made this necklace in 1992, the year so many women were elected in response to Anita Hill's testimony.  I intentionally broke the eyeglass lenses on two of the settings to indicate that the American public had lost trust in their government. I cut up real money to prove that I was serious.

 Vicious Circus is made of silver, gold, plastic and brass.

Vicious Circus (2002) is the title of a necklace that I made after the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks on September 1, 2001.  At the time I was shocked by the hateful conversations that I heard publicly and privately about Muslims.  The necklace has five mouths cast in silver with gold snake tongues coming out of them set in a circus themed arrangement. 9.1.01 was a real tragedy and it was appropriate to be outraged and sad but the government used it as a rally cry for war. Our president told the American people that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction to justify an expensive war in Iraq and stirred up a hornets nest of violence in the Middle East. I'm hearing and reading the same hateful talk now from the new administration.

 Beans in Your Ears is made of silver, gold, bronze, copper, glass, gemstones and found objects.

 Beans in Your Ears, a necklace from 1996, was inspired by PTA meetings at my daughter's school where everyone talked and nobody listened. The 2016 Republican party debates were shouting free-for-all's where nobody was listening, but I'm also witnessing Facebook posts where people just vent.  Our new president uses Twitter to rant and he exhibits little patience for listening to people with experience in government.  I'm glad I own this necklace because I need to start wearing it again.

 Terminology is made from IBM typewriter balls, silver American coins and brass Japanese coins.

Terminology (1996) was also inspired  by PTA meetings at my daughter's school where well-intentioned white people were insulting people of color with their choice of words.  Terminology addresses six hot topics: each tablet-shaped-bead is stamped with politically correct terminology on one side and politically incorrect terminology on the other. The hot topics are gender reference, obesity, race, swearing, political identification, and descriptions of sexual organs. I stamped the word pussy on the inappropriate side but I am hearing that word a lot now in public.

 Mantle for Textual Assault is made from steel, aluminum, brass, and found objects.

 Mantle for Textual Assault is armor that we finished in 2015. At that time I was commenting on Internet trolls making hostile and inappropriate references to women. I felt that email, Twitter, Facebook, and texting encouraged people to say cruel and inconsiderate things because the authors are invisible. We are more careful when were are talking on the phone or writing a letter.  My cautionary advice, THINK SLOW and THINK SMART, was based on rules that we learned with older, slower forms of communication. I had absolutely no idea how relevant Mantle for Textual Assault would be in the 2016 election.

  My job as an artist is to observe human behavior and comment on it. From the vantage point of age, I am watching human behavior patterns repeat themselves. While it may feel like change everything is really just the same.