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‘Spirited Things’ at the Fleming

Feather and fabric fetish form
Photograph by Chris Dissinger


‘Spirited Things’ at the Fleming

ART | With an array of objects that are provocative, eclectic, beautiful, and, at their essence, sacred, the Spirited Things exhibition on display at the Fleming Museum this semester is the product of years of work and collaborative vision among Marsh-Professor-at-Large J. Lorand Matory, Fleming staff, and students in religion professor Vicki Brennan’s classes.

The pieces on display are largely from Matory’s “Sacred Arts of the Black Atlantic Collection,” assembled across decades, inspired by both his religious faith and scholarly focus. Matory, Lawrence Richardson Professor of Cultural Anthropology and African and African American Studies at Duke University, connected with UVM via the Marsh program in 2013.

The new exhibition includes sacred objects from the Yoruba religion of West Africa, as well as Haitian Vodou, Cuban Santeria, Brazilian Candomble, and Caribbean Spiritism, faiths that emerged from the practices of enslaved Africans who blended their ancestral cultures with that of their captors.

 “An academic museum really thrives on collaborations like this,” Fleming curator Andrea Rosen says. “It is true of any collaboration—whether with a collector or a scholar or a living artist—that we as the museum get pushed to expand our comfort zone because of this meeting in the middle. Randy is a bit of a provocateur. Understandably and laudably so, he wants to get visitors to think about the fact that these objects are not exotic, they are not foreign, they are us. The very complex nature of them and the nuanced relationships they represent, that’s true of objects in our own lives, maybe in ways we don’t realize.”

Students in religion professor Vicki Brennan’s classes initially studied Matory’s “Sacred Arts of the Black Atlantic Collection” online and began selecting objects that might be included in an exhibition. Subsequent classes worked on documenting the displays and students this semester will survey viewer reactions.

Brennan says, “The student involvement in this project has been a great experience for them to learn more about how to apply the ideas and theories we talk about in class to real world contexts, such as the museum.”

Spirited Things runs through Dec. 15, 2017.  

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