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ART SEEN - Africa. The Ecstatic Religions

ART SEEN // General// Art & Culture // June 18, 2018

Uli Van Neyghem has been to the Museum of Ethnography in Geneva to visit the exhibition:

AFRICA - The Ecstatic Religions: A journey into an intriguing world

  • Image: Holy 1 – Vues de l’esprit series by Fabrice Monteiro (1972- ) Senegal. 2014 edition 5/5


Two steps into the above exhibition, visitors are face to face with two huge photographs called Holy 1 and Holy 2, by Fabrice Monteiro, a Belgian-Beninese photographer. An artist of mixed race, he approaches subjects with a dual gaze, moving away from clichés. Depicting the same African woman in a black veil in one and a white veil in the other, he forces the eye of the observer to constantly compare and to question associations reached at first glance:  black-veiled Holy 1 holds a bible in one hand, while making the sign of Allah with the other, while white-veiled Holy 2 embraces a Quranic tablet, but makes the Christian gesture of blessing.

Take it as an invitation to enter the exhibition with as open a mind as possible, trying to leave cultural prejudices behind.

  • Image: Holy 2 – Vues de l’esprit series by Fabrice Monteiro (1972- ) Senegal. 2014 edition 5/5


Most of us have little knowledge of African religions, and 'Africa - The Ecstatic Religions' is an opportunity to explore and discover.

  • Image: Photograph from the Kimbanguist series by Christian Lutz (1973- ) Switzerland, Geneva. 2018
  • Report by Christian Lutz for the MEG


The first section of the exhibition is devoted to monotheisms (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) and many visitors will be surprised to learn how very early these 3 major religions became established in various parts of Africa: Christianity between the 2nd and 5th, Islam as of the 7th and Judaism from the 3rd century onwards. 

Before conversion to the new faiths filtered in from the North, thousands of individual domestic religious systems existed on the continent. 

  • Image: Chikunza dance mask and costume Angola Chokwe.
  • 20th century Plant fibres, resin, textile, paint Acquired from the ethnologist Théodore Delachaux in 1944


Section 2 of the exhibition explains the fundamentals of African indigenous religions:

  • - the belief that ancestors are still present among the living, there to provide guidance and protection
  • - divination, practised to detect the influence of ancestors and to understand the cause of events
  • - sacrifices and offerings to the souls of ancestors, deities or spirits.

Visitors are introduced to the rituals and trances practised in possession cults and the initiation rites for young men and women in magico-religious systems, where beliefs often centre around spirits of the earth, woods or water. Or find out about the status and role of twins in different African communities, who can be holy and a blessing in some, or an abnormality and cause for dilemma in others (due to questions of lineage or how to cope with 2 bodies but only one soul to reincarnate). 

It is a fascinating world brought alive with art, as well as documentary photographs and films, video installations, masks, sculptures, artifacts and texts.  

  • Image: FABRICE MONTEIRO (1972 − ) is a Belgian-Beninese photographer


The exhibition's main theme is religious ecstasy; fervent moments of trying to connect to the divine forces. Thanks to the multi-media approach of the exhibition, visitors get a vivid and close-up impression of the incredible diversity and wealth of religious practises in Africa and the African diaspora.  


What:                            Africa - The Ecstatic Religions
Where:                          MEG; Museum of Ethnography, Geneva, Boulevard Carl-Vogt 65-67, 1205 Geneva.
When:                           Until January 6, 2019
Opening times:             Tuesday to Sunday, from 11 am to 6 pm. (Closed on Mondays, December 25 and January 1)
Entry fees:                    Adults: CHF 9 (Free for children until the age of 18 & reduced price for students, seniors etc.: CHF 6)

  • Image: Metamorphosis 7 by Mohau Modisakeng (1986- ) South Africa. 2015
  • On loan from Mohau Modisakeng and WHATIFTHEWORLD & Ron Mandos, Cape Town
  • Mohau Modisakeng is a South African artist from Soweto. He retraces the violent history of South Africa in films, large-scale photographs, installations or performances. The work of Mohau Modisakeng focuses on racial questions, the militarization of society and the deep postapartheid division existing in his country.




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