Materials: wood, spanish moss, cloth, string, moulded resin, feathers, paint
Dimensions: 21 centimeters high
Place acquired: Charity shop, North London, 2005
Original sale: probably New Orleans
Place of maunfacture: Louisiana, USA
The following advertisement from a New Orleans tourist website gives us some idea of the context within this Voodoo doll was made and sold:
“FRENCH QUARTER VOODOO TOURS: From the Old French Market to St Louis Cathedral to Congo Square, discover the way it was among the Creoles, the Quadroons, the Planters, the Privateers, and the Voodoo Queens of the past. Meet the Voodoos of today and see how they can help you in your life.”
It conjours up the slightly febrile mix of local heritage, folk religion and pure commercial exploitation of which the doll is a product. Voodoo dolls are available for sale through websites and Louisiana tourist shops in an enormous range of styles, and this one would probably have been displayed on the shelf marked ‘Juju Guardians’, “...These guardians aren't your typical security guards! Place them anywhere you need protection from negativity and evil; they'll take care of the rest!”
These modern sales blurbs surrounding Louisiana voodoo, and hoodoo, are at pains to position the practice under the benign umbrella of a sort of New Age alternative therapy. But it’s clear that the appeal of voodoo, in what we might term the tourist imagination, is based on a much more ghoulish and transgressive image that has been fostered over the decades in countless pulp novels and ‘B’ movies. The zombie head, the pin-sticking black magic, the crude rural aesthetic of string, rag and straw, all of this is carefully referenced in this doll which will probably have been made on a piece-work basis to supply the souvenir shops of the French Quarter of New Orleans.
In reality voodoo is just one of the west African-based religious practices of the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of the Americas of which Santeria, Vodoun, Obeah, Candomble and Umbanda are just a few other close cousins. They are serious and complex cosmologies brought by slaves from west Africa, which have often syncretised to some extent with catholic christianity. But they have all, voodoo in particular, suffered from a certain demonisation by white mainstream culture. Ironically, sticking pins in dolls as malign distance magic is more a european folk practice than it is voodoo.
But this negative image has clearly been turned to advantage as far as modern tourism is concerned and this doll is now perfectly balanced between scary other, and benign mascot.