enzo mari: exhibition design for vodun african voodoo at the fondation cartier
enzo mari: exhibition design for vodun african voodoo at the fondation cartier enzo mari: exhibition design for vodun african voodoo at the fondation cartier
apr 06, 2011

enzo mari: exhibition design for vodun african voodoo at the fondation cartier

vodun exhibition at fondation cartier image © designboom


‘vodun’ african voodoo fondation cartier, paris, france until 25 september, 2011


the fondation cartier pour l’art contemporain presents for the first time an exceptional group of vodun objects from the collection anne and jacques kerchache, in a scenography conceived by enzo mari, one of the great masters of italian industrial design. the exhibition is organized in close collaboration with anne kerchache – today mrs. kamal douaoui – who was the wife of jacques kerchache until his death in 2001. as early as the late sixties, jacques kerchache recognized the ‘aesthetic potency and stunning originality’ of voodoo statuary. it was at this time, during his first trips to the birthplace of voodoo — currently known as the republic of benin — that he began to bring together what has become the most significant existing collection of african voodoo statuary. the fondation cartier exhibition presents approximately hundred objects, including some that now belong to other private collectors.

exhibition design by enzo mari : the village image © designboom

through its silent simplicity and meditative rigour, the exhibition design by enzo mari allows these impenetrable objects to speak for themselves, thus revealing the mystery and convulsive beauty of voodoo statuary. according to the exhibition’s co-curators, leanne sacramone and grazia quaroni, we can only imagine the circumstances of their creation. ‘I imagined jacques kerchache arriving for the first time in benin, with some idea of the subject, but no direct experience. maybe the first things he saw were the largest pieces, standing in front of the houses of a village. he then might have talked to somebody, listened to a few stories, discovered more objects. similarly, visitors of this exhibition, will discover the more secret objects.’ enzo mari

  a sculpture that suggest not to talk about secrets image © designboom


some have linked the term – vodu, vodou, voudou, voodoo, vaudou, voju … –  to the ewe word ‘vo’, meaning ‘hole’ or ‘opening’, which can be related to what is hidden or secret, and ‘du’ — a term for fa* divinition — meaning ‘signs’ or ‘messages’. this suggests a meaning of ‘vodun’ for ‘messenger of the invisible’. the followers of vodun believe there is a link between the visible worlds of the living and the invisible worlds of the spirits. these worlds are allowed to communicate through sacrifice, prayer, possession and divination.


fa* represents destiny associated with divination practices. fa is a short guide for the people of benin. benin, the former kingdom of dahomey, is the only country in the world that officially recognises voodoo as a state religion.

enzo mari portrait © designboom



‘ I have found that all intellectual efforts are never anything other than desperate processes involving subtraction. there are no formulas, it’s a mysterious process. under the weight of scientific observation, you try to connect all fragments. and every project is a journey, with a beginning and an end. with this exhibition design, I superimposed myself onto the journey of jacques kerchache, the collector, A MAN. the desire to escape death, …’ enzo mari

enzo maris is here explaining that the tongue of this figure is liked to a stone weight with a metal chain image © designboom


‘I had the opportunity to come in contact with vodun during a trip. towards the 1990s. I saw scenes of ecstasy and fainting.  a rooster was sacrified. the members of the community lived in small, very modest and simply constructed houses. they showed me their divinities that held remedies for the hardships of life, of war, … I was very interested in these fetishes, which for them were closer to a form of medicine than a work of art. I looked at these works in this exhibition primarily from the point of view of an anthropologist. but hervé chandés, the director of the fondation cartier, explained to me that jacques kerchache had made his choices based more on aesthetic criteria.’ enzo mari

image © designboom


bocio forms speak to potent fears of the unknown. these works relate to the power of belief at local level, here specifically the religion and philosophy of vodun, and the array of forces such as gods and spirits that shape the worldview. some think that the term has its origin from the fon verbs ‘vo’ to ‘rest’ and ‘dun’ to ‘draw water’, referencing the necessity to remain calm when facing whatever difficulties.

image © designboom



in vodun belief, one is encouraged to take time for reflection… like the serene, straight standing human figures with key attributes of raw energy and visual primacy invite us to.

image © designboom

guardians image © designboom


‘I wanted to tell the story of each object, but they have come to us without stories, without dates. therefore I created a ‘film set’, just to exhibit the objects. that was the only choice.’ enzo mari

image © designboom

images © designboom

guardian figures to protect the house, compound, temple or city play an important role in safeguarding residents from evil.

images © designboom



absent arms seem to be wrapped in a garment that holds them against the body. a very short neck, a slightly rounded belly, the face, whose features have been softened by the wearing of the wood, expresses great emotion with its slightly pointed chin, its mouth displaying a faint pout on its thick, closed lips, the short triangular nose without nostrils, and its eye, a circle in relief. its face was once painted white.

images © designboom

images © designboom

image © designboom

image © designboom



fetishes are talismans. they are used for protection as well as to cast spells. they protect woman in labor, enhance sexuality and protect from illness and death. in psychological terms, these works speak to the challenges and fears of the world as it is experienced. such works address the array of emotions that impact humans regardless of status, wealth, or personal history.

gabin djimassé, voodoo adept in ceremonial garb image © designboom

chairs and tables of ‘autoprogettazione’ series by enzo mari, 1974 image © designboom



archival films about the practice of voodoo of jacques kerchache’s trips, interviews with specialists and artists are shown. the tables and chairs are part of enzo mari’s ‘proposta di autoprogettazione’ of 1974,  the original idea consisted of a series of  ‘do-it-yourself’ instructions and drawings on how to construct the various pieces of furniture. now, finnish company artek offers customers to purchase a set of pre-cut pine wood boards, nails and instructions… to build the ‘sedia 1- chair’. you can see a short video here. the showcases, designed for this exhibition, partake of the same vocabulary.

showcases image © designboom



‘autoprogettazione’ has been a project for making furniture that the user could assemble simply from raw planks of wood and nails. a basic technique through which anyone with a critical mind could address the production of an object.’ enzo mari

jacques kerchache image © designboom

‘in africa, function is inseparable from beauty. the artistic quality of a work enhances its ritual power’. jacques kerchache

— enzo mari was the university mentor of birgit lohmann, founder and editor in chief of designboom. they have collaborated for over 15 years on various design projects. for designboom, birgit has followed the various steps of development of this project until the inauguration of the show. please see also the second part of our coverage of this exhibition and a video interview with enzo mari on the topic of ‘voodoo’, ‘medicine’, ‘tools of divine intervention’ and ‘beauty’. soon to be published. please stay tuned.

  • beautiful exhibition design, minimalistic but very exiting… good job

    Martijn says:

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