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Principles: Ritual, Sacrifice, the Eternal

Lab Author: Andrea Cetrulo


Example: Increasingly across the world, there is a new phenomenon wherein groups of office workers and bankers congregate on glass tower rooftops to practice their own forms of mysticism (yoga, meditation, mindfulness) and get back to business straight after. Sometimes they even feature mainstream DJ's to musicalise their contortions. 


Is the 72nd floor of a London skyscraper closer to heaven? What does the renewed interest in mystical practices tell us about future civilisations? Guided meditation sessions on glass tower rooftops; bodies contorting to the beat of clinical electronic music; the ancient smells of Aloeswood and Palo Santo extracted from foreign lands, pre-packaged in glossy cellophane, waiting to inebriate. Why does seeking the invisible, the immaterial, appeal to contemporary part-time mystics? Does the faith in the remedial powers of 'mindfulness' mirror the psycho-pathological distortions of our time, signalling the collapse of a civilisation? 


Image: Sunrise Yoga at Sky Gardens, London. Published in Timeout (2019).



Example: Every February the 2nd, the Atlantic shores of Brazil and neighbouring Uruguay recede announcing the return of Yemanja, goddess and mother of the sea, who travelled with the Yorubas of West Africa to the Americas accompanying them on involuntary displacements across the ocean. The syncretic deity, partly fish, partly human, mestiza in appearance, is an archetype that resists becoming ossified by way of fluidity, of water and of undulating dance moves that press against the waves. She embodies a futuristic sense of identity which is being constantly renewed and germinated, refuting any rooted historical accounts of culture. 

Iaõs, the shamans of the Orishas religion (often homosexual men and elder women) welcome her through performing ritualistic possessions, entering contagious states of trance and delirium: the audience is transfixed too. The swirling figures enveloped in sinuous white robes consume liquors to the sound of incessant drums, inviting anyone who dares witness the spectacle and enter Yemonjas realm of nocturnal secrecy. Yet when daylight comes and the tide is back, those spectators who have offered her their most precious possessions realize that the promise has not been fulfilled and that her secret remains a secret. 



Water is a vehicle for movement. It temporarily (or permanently) disfigures and transfigures anything that passes it. Seas have hosted migrational projects and carried the imagination of past and future movements with it. Liquidity, confusion, chaos. Amongst its powers is that of challenging, and often completely eroding our attempts at cementing sedentary architectures in space and in memory, reminding us that nature does not want us. 


The erosion of Sufi tombs on the coast of North Africa exemplify this: Atlantic currents sway the saintly bodies buried in these holy places into the murky depths of time. Here, the dissolution of material – the tomb, the body – does not signify a loss of function, given that its capacity relies on performativity and a living tradition of growth rather than on the solidifaction of the a statue or idol.  


Example: Moad Musbahi’s research investigates Sidi Ahmad Shashkal, a seaside Sufi tomb in Morocco as an illustration of migration as a social practice, suspending traditional categorisations of cultural heritage and speculating on how the past might be mobilised against the slow erasure of the future. 

Image attached. Credit: Sea Burial, Moad Musbahi. Jameel Arts Centre, 2020.



Pomba Gira is associated with the evil spirits or Yoruba demons called Esus (Exus in Brazil), spirits of the shadows. A Dama da Noite or Mistress of the Night, Pomba Gira is a daemonic figure venerated in Brazil by the subterranean factions of the Umabanda religion. She is a holy harlot, mercurial, capricious, and amoral. Her specialty is that of granting love wishes in exchange of sensuous gifts such as cigarettes, liquors, perfumes, and the worshippers' bodies by way of possession. Once a devotee has made allegiance with her, she must renounce her social persona, her role as friend, mother, wife, in order to commit entirely to Pomba Gira. Following her invitation, she immediately becomes a slave to the saint. In exchange, A Dama da Noite, always summoned after-dark, promises to grant her the most unspeakable wishes and desires.


Femme fatale, vamp, Pomba Gira is an incarnation of the devil appearing in a variety of disguises: Lady of the Cemetery; Lady of the Crossroads; Queen of Trash; female partner in crime of her male counterpart, Exu, God of the Yoruba underworld. Pomba Gira is pharmakon: simultaneously healing and destructive. She challenges and subverts diurnal hierarchies occupied by men, posing a constant threat to formal order with her anarchic multiplicity and elusive demeanour. 


She is the abject, the impure, the tainted: mestizo, hybrid, chimera. She embodies true syncretism and champions the unknown, the shifting and the unclassifiable, the monstrous, transvestism, and the dark forces of women. 


Image credit: Still from the film Slaves fo the Saints, 2011. Directed by Kelly Hayes. Written by Catherine Crouch. 



Povo da Rua (people of the street) is a Portuguese term used to designate the archetypes that inhabit the city streets after dark: the rascal, the gambler, the hustler, the gangster, the conman, the prostitute. Such is the rapper. It is by chanting about his nocturnal operations that the rapper establishes an existential relationship with the future, divorcing himself from the political correctness of present mainstream debates, not responding to codes of bourgeoise propriety. Through creating eerie moods and operating in illicit terms, the rapper demarcates a territory of otherness and neatly defines the enemy, escaping the dictates of daytime discourses by speaking the unspeakable and producing a subaltern narrative where he exceeds his hegemonic daytime correspondence as mere scapegoat (the scapegoat being the one who is sent into the wilderness carrying the sins of the community). Naming an enemy by his name only confirms the fact that having an enemy can make us stronger. Similarly, chants invoking deceased friends (or lost idols) refute normative conventions of reality that establish that we are either dead or alive and cannot be simultaneously dead and alive. 


To live becomes an adventure that commences and potentially ends every night; the ecstatic joy of (still) being alive heightens and morphs the meaning of time. The nihilistic as purely vitalistic. It is not only the words but the moods it conveys. Against the backdrop of a nocturnal glistening cityscape, rappers appear to us as pagan idols in a pantheon channeled through our screens: virtual images integrating smoke, neon lights, silhouettes, masks, conspicuous consumption and representations of artificial paradises equally inducing states of oblivion and alertness. 

Image Credit: Screenshot of the music video Petrol Station by Kwengface x PS HItsquad, 2021.

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