When Travis Louie messaged me about a show he was curating back in February, I couldn't say no. The theme was "Zombie". I knew right away I wanted this piece to have a little New Orleans Voodoo and Hoodoo to it. I have been a long time admirer of Marie Laveau and traveled to New Orleans a few times to catch up with her spirit. Marie came to me years ago as Katrina hit. I frantically searched for signs of life from friends I knew who stayed and glued myself to the television while sending whatever little funds I had to help. The dreamtime became my two way radio. I would dream of the streets and secret ceremonies, cornmeal on dirt floors in designs that were familiar yet unknown. For one week the dreams were non stop and I'd wake up drawing symbols on the floor that I'd later learn were veves. This was the year I'd learn snake was one of my totems and felt the earths drum beat beneath my feet.
I found the cabinet at a local antique store and promptly brought it home to strip off some of the paint. It was white and green with horrid pink flowers. I wasn't sure of the design yet but as I perused my files a few things jumped out at me. I remebered Marie's snake was named Zombi, Damballah is sometimes called Le Grand Zombie, and there is a zombie powder, two of the ingredients I could incorporate into the cabinet itself. I didn't want to focus just on the zombie powder aspect of the piece but I did want it to be both an art piece as well as a working altar if one may choose to use it that way. I started to lay it together choosing my reference. I wasn't sure if I should put Marie on it or do it as a self portrait like the dream. A long conversation with Kim Boekbinder made my decision clear. As a working piece I could put both my and her essence into it. She had given me those dreams and it was important to stay true to them. I decided to put my image but over my face a death mask, an ode to Baron Samedi if you will.
In my last self portrait I experimented with aluminum as a frame and it worked incredibly well. This time I took it further. I wanted to create an entire metal roof. I started working with aluminum because many times I'm working at 4 a.m. I can't be incredibly noisy, so no hammering tin etc. Bit by bit I cut each section and embossed them with intricate designs. After I embossed I aged them with a mixture of gold leaf paint, acetone, and coffee grounds. I paint the mixture on and wipe away excess. I do this a few time to get the right appearance. I had to do two at a time to make sure I would get something somewhat symmetrical. After many night on 4 hours sleep the metal work was done.
I had decide to do the same type of metal for the inside giving it an older feel. I made sure to cut the metal at odd angles so it seemed to have some wear and tear to it. The important thing to remember during this process is to take breaks. My hand was aching after a few of these. The inside was a bit simpler as I didn't want it to distract from the items I was going to put into the cabinet.
The finished cabinet contains a chicken foot, skeleton key, a blowfish, bottles with herbs, an assortment of bones, datura, and ritual candles. On the sides of the cabinet I painted it to look like the side of Marie Laveau's tomb in New Orleans. I also felt because Papa Legba is the guardian of the crossroads and always called upon first that his veve should be on the sides. to show that respect to him. Inside is the veve for Damballah. In order to get the right feel I contacted by friend Sister Enable who guided me on which to use according to her tradition. Sister Enable and I are similar in our hoodoo workings and her thoughts on the piece generally coincided with mine.
Photograph of Marie Laveau's grave when I was there in December.
Hard at work embossing metal and making messes.
Last minute addition. If I can pull it all together the altar may have sound. Wish me luck. This piece will be on display at Last Rites Gallery May 25 for the "Zombie" show.