October 21, 2011


George Clooney in spirit - at the Carlos

Jessica Stephenson has been dreaming about George Clooney a lot lately -- walks on the beach, picnics in English meadows, a walk up a mountain in the South African Cape.

From the point of view of the Baule culture in West Africa's Ivory Coast, Clooney would be Stephenson's spirit-man-spouse-lover-alter-ego.

"For Baule persons, spirits co-habit with humans through dreams," said Stephenson, curator of African art at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, "the dream world being where the two invisible and visible worlds connect."

Stephenson spoke Oct. 19 on the Blaule concept of blolo bian, or spirit man, and blolo bla, or spirit woman. The talk was part of the Carlos' AntiquiTEA series, which serves up tea and scones with perspectives on an exhibit in the museum. In this case, it was "Divine Intervention: African Art & Religion," which runs through Dec. 4.

"Everyone on Earth comes from the blolo and is never entirely free from relations with the spirits left behind there. Everyone has an entire family in the blolo that continue to interfere and participate with life after birth. Mostly, it is a spirit who causes problems or helps their human partners in their lives," Stephenson said.

"And Baule women or men," she said, "often have a figure carved to represent and appease his or her spirit woman or man."

Some of these figures can been seen in the "Divine Intervention" exhibit.

"They are used to establish an ongoing mutual, beneficial relationship through the establishment of a shrine, the giving of offerings and exclusive nights set aside for exclusive relations through dreams with the spirit partner," Stephenson said.

If you want to get away from one causing you misery or making mischief, move.  "Distance and physical separation from shrines and sculptures can weaken the spirit's power to influence life, especially if one should move to a modern city," she advised.

Stephenson explained what the carvings represent and how they evolved over time, influenced by colonialism, from naked, traditional figures to ones with flip-flops and sunglasses.

"The relationship with the spirit partner can be either positive or negative but, unlike a human marriage it is indissolvable, for the spirit is said to be like your soul — something you are born with," Stephenson said, no doubt hoping that's true of her relationship with George Clooney.

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