Ceci n’est pas. . .


Fertility Statues (Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum, Key West, Florida)

Rene Magritte was a philosophical surrealist painter, who pointed out that art, or representations of things, cannot be actual things. Or can they? Art, myth, and ideas often have physical manifestations in the Mythosphere. Sometimes our sense of reality gets bent back onto itself like a Mobius strip. Art and Life merge.

This photo shows a pair of African fertility statues in the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum in Key West, Florida. Richard Ripley spent a lifetime collecting cultural oddities from all over the world, which are now on display in several museums in the United States and a few other countries. The artifacts in these museums, now removed from their countries and cultures of origin, lose most of their meaning. They are mere works of art. Usually.

As museum visitors, we expect that the objects carefully encased in glass displays are merely objects of curiosity, strange works of art. We are separated from the objects. We observe them distantly and make judgments on style and form. The placard tells us these two wooden carvings were “fertility statues” back in whatever part of Africa they came from, at some point in a foggy past. We accept the information intellectually. They are not fertility gods; they are museum artifacts that depict fertility gods.

But wait a minute! The glass case is full of U.S. currency – dollars and coins. People who are visiting the museum are making offerings to the museum displays. They are supplicating the fertility gods, making prayers.

The fertility gods are not, then, artifacts in a museum display case. They are living, working gods in a modern shrine. They are not Art; they are Life. Somehow, across an ocean, across time, across culture and language and religion, across home and people and context, these objects have maintained a core identity of function. They have attracted a new people to recognize them. Now those are indeed  powerful gods!


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