The first event of the Global Spotlight series for International Education Week kicked off with speaker Mario LaMothe, performance artist, curator, anthropologist and assistant professor of Black Studies and Anthropology from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
UCA’s Center for Global Learning and Engagement hosted LaMothe’s event, Vodou: Danced Culture and Contemporary Dance Praxis, Nov. 11 over Zoom.
Phillip Bailey, associate vice president for International Education and Engagement, said of the Global Spotlight series, “We’re trying to bring a spotlight, a focus on the cultural production and traditions of various countries around the world.”
The presentation provided by LaMothe derives from his book “Vodou Rich Bodies,” which examines “Haitian contemporary dance making, following Haiti’s 2020 earthquake as an especially potent site for restorative performances of Blackness by Haitians.”
“The project and this presentation situate themselves at the intersection of Vodou, Haiti’s ancestral dance, religious culture and its manifestation in Haitian contemporary choreographies,” LaMothe said.
LaMothe supplemented his presentation with videos of Haitian contemporary choreographers. Kettly Noël, Jean René Delsoin and Jeanguy Saintus. With these performers, LaMothe wanted to share examples of Vodou’s transition and “how, slowly, it’s been staged first as sort of a folkloric dance and then as a contemporary practice by these choreographers,” he said.
He cited Lavinia Williams as an integral player in the transformation of Vodou becoming more contemporary. “Lavinia Williams was brought to the island to make sure that it looked modern. It looked contemporary, to discipline it, to make sure that it was competitive with other global data sets,” LaMothe said. “And it's fair to say that, myself included, Jeanguy Saintus, Jean René Delsoin, Kettly Noël, we were trained if not by Lavinia Williams herself, but by students of Lavinia Williams.”
LaMothe’s project “asks how these performances [from Noël, Delsoin and Saintus] are physicalized, circulated and deployed against dominant representations,” Adele Okoli, assistant professor of French, said.
LaMothe confronted the differences between Vodou and Voodoo. Vodou is “the Afro-syncretic danced religion of Haiti, devised and wielded by the offspring of enslaved Africans to eradicate French colonization,” while Voodoo is “a perverted globally pernicious representation and body of knowledge not only of the practice but also of Haiti and Haitians, rooted in longstanding U.S. imperialist projects in and about Haiti.”
He also discussed the history of the Haitian people, the impacts of colonialism and negative connotations of Haitian culture, such as “Haiti as a land of sorcery.”
American media, such as films and books, “continue to generate nightmarish and racist depictions of Haiti… American representations of Haiti, and their derivatives, in other words, portrayed the island and its residents and citizens as queerly, subhuman and in need of salvation.”