April - October 2016
In the beginning there was Sande. Women were the custodians of all ritual and the spiritual powers necessary for defending sacred traditions in the interests of the ancestors. The generations spring from women’s wombs, and it is their arcane lore which ensures the fertility of families, of land, and of all nature. The myth that explains the origin of the Sande institution (The women’s association entrusted with the physical and mental transformation of girls into women) goes on to describe how men assumed control of what women originated.
It is believed that in ancient times, Jewish women and men used to cover themselves in a prayer shawl while facing God. Though the Torah never prohibited women from doing so, over the centuries the shawl, or Tallit, became associated exclusively with religious male practices. Nowadays, women from various currents in Judaism tend to wrap themselves in a Tallit, and it has become customary for 12 year-old girls to choose their Tallit for their Bat Mitzvah ceremony to symbolize their induction into the community of faith.
In the cultural practices of both the Mande and Jewish peoples, the artifacts presented in Otot are associated with the process of transforming young girls into women, capable of assuming their religious responsibility as adults. Moreover, by adopting objects which are traditionally associated with men, women assume equality and expand their power and control in the community. Conversely, according to the Western feminist approach, religious ideology plays an important role in reproducing oppressive social norms. Therefore, assuming objects associated with the patriarchy also means affirming gender inequality.
Otot offers a different take on this dilemma by displaying objects as lacking in agency, as detached from the sociopolitical context of their origin. This process of objectifying the object, so to speak, and negating its subjectivity, permits the juxtaposition of ritual artifacts from two distinct cultures. Moreover, this arrangement, so fundamentally alien to our western way of knowledge classification, is an opportunity to change our perception. It could serve as an exercise for the viewer to reexamine society's dichotomization of exotic objects produced by “primitive” people as opposed to spiritual artifacts produced for “sophisticated” believers.