Met: Removal of sacred ‘Voodoo in America’ artifact a ‘grave injustice’

Sylvia Pagels, the curator of the popular Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Voodoo in American Art,” said it was “heartless” that the museum removed a ceremonial device from its exhibit Monday — the exhibit’s…

Met: Removal of sacred ‘Voodoo in America’ artifact a ‘grave injustice’

Sylvia Pagels, the curator of the popular Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Voodoo in American Art,” said it was “heartless” that the museum removed a ceremonial device from its exhibit Monday — the exhibit’s final night before it was taken down to make way for a different exhibit.

“To hear this claim by the Met, that this is a problem, that I feel is deeply ironic,” Ms. Pagels said. “These accusations are provably untrue. This [prophetic] device and the collection of objects around it represents the ancient, magical practice of Voodoo in our archival materials.”

Ms. Pagels, an artist herself, said the object, which was up for four months, was removed in question posed to her by public relations people from the museum. Her statement followed a report in The New York Times Friday, which said the museum staff reported that the artifact had not been registered on a permit from New York City.

Ms. Pagels, who is an expert on African religions, noted that the Met can only remove objects after the late registration, which had been the issue of contention because of the pending permit change, as a regular procedure. The removal is also part of what the Museum calls a “regular and very measured routine.”

The museum will still be able to show items from the display in other galleries until Aug. 4, in order to allow people to view them properly.

In addition to the procession, the Met has a meditation room, from which the priest and the numerous deities involved in the ceremonies from the exhibit can be observed. The museum staff does not perform the ceremonies, Ms. Pagels explained, but it still offers some visitors a chance to experience them in the absence of the outside crowd.

Ms. Pagels said the removal of the object should be seen as “a grave injustice” to people who had visited the exhibit and felt connected to a “tradition that is beyond humanity.” The museum’s staff “should act with compassion and civility and have even given this device to additional parties to allow them to continue with their rituals,” she said.

There are “answers to be found in whatever’s left of the Met exhibit,” Ms. Pagels said.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art did not respond to a request for comment.

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