member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life

This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo

(Slideshow is of Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Agwe And Erzulie

Agwe And Erzulie as St. Ulrich and St. Afra

(Press to see larger images...)

Erzulie is the Queen of Impossible Demands, and her demands make the world so. She has three husbands and various lovers, but is also known for her virginal, child-like nature. She demands that her followers live their lives with joy, throwing worries aside and lavishing her with expensive and 'frivolous' gifts, perfumes and layer upon layer of finery, and that everyone wear his or her best attire for her parties, regardless of the intense heat or the fact that an earthquake just hit, or the possibility that no one has any money.

Working with the maquettes, a technique learned from
Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Her three husbands cover all of life, with lovers filling in like variations on a theme--for detail, for variety: 
Agwe and Damballa rule the sea and the sky, respectively--that is, everything; both the unformed chaos of the deep, churning waters of creation and its thinning and separating out into sky to form the globe. Ogun is the warrior, the masculine, the machete, the force which must not turn against the people (the self)--perhaps he represents the distinction between force (to break things open and push into the new) and power (to keep things the same at all costs).  He is known for his miracles, and one mounted by him will often poke himself or run himself through with the blade without injury, or wash his hands in flaming rum without suffering later.

In her successful demands for whatever her heart desires, she is much like St. Rita, who from her deathbed in the dead of winter requested a fig and a rose from her favorite garden, and got them. 
Interestingly, the word rose developes from the Sanskrit root vrt. Vrt leads to the Gothic wairth, the Old Nordic verdh, and the Anglo-Saxon weordh, all of which mean "to unroll, to become, to come into being" (Nada Brahma: The World is Sound). It is also the root for the names of two of the three ancient Norse goddesses of fate, Urth and Verthandi.  Aramaic and Arabic took this root and unfurled it into varda and vard, or rose, Greek dropped the v and gave us rodos, or rose, and Hebrew gives us wered, which is bud (that which comes into being) and rose (that which has become)-- thus bringing into the meaning of the word not only the unfurling of life but the fact that life has already unfurled, that we are circling it, observing. Observing in the sense of the Observer of modern physics, who influences which reality will vibrate with life right now just by perceiving it. And there we circle back to the contemporary English word "word." As in, God spoke, and there was life. The word is the beginning, and from it unfurls the bud of life. Rita said, bring me a rose, and it was so, and from that came a world where one could request from her other such 'impossibilities.' Erzulie decided that the heat was impossible and she wanted to be able to breathe underwater. She spoke, and the water rushed forth, and from it an appropriate husband, Agwe, on his horse.

The world is not a solid rock of reality. It is your next breath, unfurling into your expectations.

Maquettes, cropped for panel

As the slaves in North America were not allowed to practice their religion of voodoo, they would take images of saints as representations of their own loa, thereby encoding their reverence and faith in the language of the ruling Catholics. Agwe was 'represented' by St. Ulrich, who was often depicted carrying a fish, or riding a horse which had such power that it could cross the ocean without drowning. Here is Agwe, as St. Ulrich, emerging from the chaotic waters of Erzulie's creation, on his water-formed horse. 
Erzulie is usually depicted as the Black Madonna, but I have chosen St. Afra, a Cypriot saint who was described both as a prostitute of the temples and as a virgin martyr, giving her a rather distinct similarity to Erzulie. She also happens to share a crypt with St. Ulrich, and so their pairing seems natural. Their relationship is very circular, she creates him creates her, it is a dance, and the horse forms from the waves and leaps forward to surge Agwe upwards into being.

Different lighting to show how the gold leaf changes as you move across the room:


All images in this post by Zoe Jordan. All photos by Gabriel.


  1. You stagger me. Your painting always drew me in. But now... now you blow me away. Love the dynamic of this one, that marvellous blue and the hair tearing in all directions. The backward glance over the shoulder and the way the eye keeps travelling around the composition. That arcing horse's head fitted into the negative shape. You've always acknowledged that you learn from me. Now I'm learning from you.

    1. i can't tell you how happy your comments make me, clive. i have miles to go, but you make them so full of surprise.

  2. Oh, I love this... both the maquette and the painting. I'm a sucker for gold leaf in paintings and love the way it lights everything up from behind here. The whole thing is just splendid... it looks thrashing and wild!

    1. thanks, jodi :))
      that makes me really happy. i hope you're working on a painting with that amazing maquette you made, now?

  3. These are beautiful, Zoe, so exciting and dramatic! I love their Kohl-lined eyes and intense yet playful expression. They are your tango dancers in new roles.

    I must apologise - as I've now also done on my blogger blog - for not replying to your very kind comments there. The reason was that I didn't know there were any comments until tonight! I had set up that moderation thing but never got any notices saying there were comments waiting. So I've cancelled the moderation and hope I'll now see any comments that appear. The main Blaugustine comments seem to be working anyway.
    All the best and carry on creating wonders!

    1. ah, i had wondered if that was it! i'm glad you got it worked out :)
      thanks for your comments :)

  4. Hi Zoe,
    multiple points, Erzulie seems a wise ruler, is she your own creation? I love myth making, always happy when someone conjures their own tales. I agree with Clive this is a very striking composition, she is seductive and powerful, a very agreeable subject.
    The blue is of course gorgeous, most particularly with the golden ground, like an icon.
    Love the reference to blessed St. Rita, she hangs in our sitting room, big old 19th century depiction of her (she has a lot of heavenly company as I collect evictions of the saints). Your information concerning her last meal is inspirational-a painting? enjoyed your depictions of the rose, its history, meaning...
    Finally thrilled you are a Remedios Varo fan. I confess I am a new fan, attended a large exhibition in which you was a key player. Isn't she absolutely fantastic! a genuine inspiration to me and I imagine to you as well.
    Well enough chatting, my studio has an echo without me.

    1. oh, you have a st. rita in your sitting room? she is my all-time favorite, i have tried painting her many times :) you have a photo, maybe?
      erzulie is from the voodoo pantheon, and another of the figures i am constantly worrying at. she is usually syncretized with the virgin mary, but i misbehave a lot, and i find her more resonant with other saints :)
      remedios varo started everything for me. i only tried to draw because i saw her paintings and couldn't afford one :) she is amazing, and i'm so jealous you got to see her work in person!
      thank you for your visit and your kind comments!

    2. Pardon my not returning sooner, I forget to click the button that alerts me to follow up. That said, yes Rita hangs proudly, and yes will happily send you a photo. My email is, give me a holler and I will send from my phone.
      I am unfamiliar with voodoo although I lived in South florida and plenty of Haitians have combined the Roman church with indiginous deities . Alas, I am Roman Catholic, not even practicing, just culturally Roman Catholic.
      I began sketching out the holy rita with fig and rose. Might put together a small devotional painting, you should do one as well. She's pretty simple, holy lady, in black, ubiquitous thorn popping outta her head (:
      And yes Varos is a goddess.
      Take care,

  5. meant depiction, NOT eviction (:

  6. Hi

    These are really great, zoe. I love to see gold leaf used in paintings! Yours looks so beautiful. I was interested in your mention- "St. Afra, a Cypriot saint who was described both as a prostitute of the temples and as a virgin martyr..." It reminds me of "miko" (Shinto shrine maidens), some of them(not all) in the mediaeval age served as a prostitute of the shrine they belonged to and as a shaman..