241 Things

1000 Things is a subjective encyclopedia of inspirational ideas, things, people, and events.

Read the most recent articles, or mail the editorial team to contribute.

Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

Emma Kunz was a popular healer and visionary. People came to her for her healing powers or to ask her questions about their futures. To help them, Kunz would make drawings. During lengthy sessions, some lasting up to twenty-four hours, Kunz would use her artworks as a map of the future. These maps acted like a navigational system to explore existential questions, as well as a system to diagnose her patients.

Emma Kunz

Kunz was never formally trained as an artist and only began drawing when she was late into her forties; intricately drawn large mandalas, complex colours, and variations in lines. While drawing, she would fall into a trance where she would not eat or drink, and fixated herself completely on her patient or the question she was searching to answer. Using a pendulum, she would mark co-ordinates to signal beginning and end points on graph paper. She would then trace billions of lines between these points.

Due to her immense dedication to her drawings, she was able to access dimensions that transcend the consciousness of the every day. The minute precision of these drawings hearkens to meticulous mathematical compositions that, besides their beauty, contain the universe’s secret formulas. A segment of reality outside of the reach of our every day consciousness was revealed to Kunz through these abstract patterns. Kunz wasn’t accepted by the mainstream art world during her lifetime.

Art as a definition was far too restrictive for her. Her geometric play was more than just art. She understood the power of the image and it’s ability to act as a tool to initiate the transformation process within human consciousness, and how this could exert its influence onto the world. Despite this awareness, her drawings lay strewn throughout her home and were never meant to be hung on a wall. ‘My work is meant for the 21st century’, she said. And she was right; her work in all its controversy has only now been accepted by the art world.

Kunz stopped drawing in the sixties. She had no need to anymore. Her connection to the cosmos had grown to such an extent that she could directly receive answers to her questions. The borders between earthly contradictions were lifted.

Sitting in the taxi I spot the sign ‘Ceramica’, and we jump out of car so we won’t miss it. This turns out to be a great decision, because this store is nothing less than an actual voodoo shop.

Behind the counter, the clerk stands wearing a checked shirt, looking calm and relaxed while walk around the shop. A man with glasses on enters the shop and carefully collects the items on the shopping list he’s holding. He leaves the shop with a pretty purple bundle held together by a ribbon. In this shop one can clearly see how old superstition and Christianity go hand in hand. Besides the various paraphernalia to practice voodoo, to predict the future, the small soaps to wash away your sins with, the drinks to ignite love; there are holy statues and protective amulets depicting saints.

Brazil is officially Catholic, but the old animism carried over by the slaves from Africa is still abundantly practiced. During slavery, it was forbidden for slaves to practice their own religion. In order to still honour their own gods, they cloaked them with names of Christian saints. The god of the sea, Iemanja, for example, was attributed the Holy Maria as her alter ego and is exuberantly celebrated on December 31st. The ceramic statues are packed in plastic, set up in rows.

A sculpture of a little gagged black man conjures associations of SM, making one fear the worst. What evils could this little object induce? Yet, it turns out this trinket is nothing more than a protection piece in the form of the holy Anastacia wearing a mouth cover to protect herself from contagious illness. Likewise, the owner of the talisman will be protected from illness. I decide to buy it.

Saint Anastacia

I also buy wax ex votos, these are images of body parts to be thrown in a fire and so beg protection over that part of the body. The baskets holding little notes folded into bows differ remarkably in popularity, the pombagira is sold out while the basket of exus is still completely full. (I can’t find an exact translation for pombagiras, but it seems to mean something similar to ‘receiving an answer’.) We both take a sorry note that describes in Portuguese how to perform the ritual of forgiveness.

'pombagira' and 'exus

Just outside Rio there’s an extraordinary museum that holds a private collection of folk art that, according to them, is the largest collection in Brazil. The French Jacques van de Beuque travelled the world and for forty years collected folk art on markets, fairs, and shops. He then found a house, now known as Casa do Pontal, in which to show his collection.

The museum is much cleaner in its presentation than other folk art museums in Rio de Janeiro. Each space contains shelves on which endless amounts of sculptures are grouped, as though the collector simply wanted to own everything without making distinctions. The best part of the collection is almost impossible to find. An inconspicuous door opens to a small room where a hilarious collection of ‘arte erotica’ is hidden away; every day sex scenes are crafted with exaggeration and humour, something that the material qualities of clay are extremely adept at conveying. There was much to see and discover, despite the lights constantly switching off and forcing you to keep walking to activate the sensor.