What is the purpose of an altar?

Assotto's Altar

In this installation, it’s a way to remember Assotto Saint’s legacy. The altar photographs featured in this virtual exhibition preview the conception and designs of UIC Art, Architecture, and Museum and Exhibition Studies graduate students. It celebrated  Assotto Saint’s artistry, inspired and guided by multiple feminine African divinities––Erzulie, Yemaya, and Oshun. The installation was a creative research endeavor anchored by a deep reverence for the Haitian and Africanist practice instead of a need to mount an “authentic” altar.

Mario LaMothe Interview Excerpts, “Works Cited: Assotto’s Child at the Altar”; Written by Christina Nafziger:

“Think about a Christian church altar. But in the Africanist religions of Vodou, Candomblé, Santeria, you build or fashion an altar to honor an ancestor and/or one of the religion’s divinities. A person does so as a means to maintain a connection with their ancestor and the divine, and to fashion a portal between the human and ancestral realms.

Let’s look at it this way: I think we all do our own rites of reclamation, in our own ways. Look around your house where you keep the things that you most treasure. We all build altars. Some of us might have a corner in which there’s a photo of your grandmother. Next to that there are knick-knacks, it could be like a ticket stub from a show that you saw. And somehow, those are all traces and mementos of something that you cherish the most. You feel this means something, it makes you feel whole and complete. It connects you to a past, and makes you feel grounded in the present. Sometimes, as a part of that set-up, there’s a candle we light. We burn incense there. For me, sometimes I’ll do a little prayer, like: “Grandma, I’ve been thinking about you today. Help me cultivate strength and wisdom today.” We may say a silent prayer. We sort of conjure the person into the space with us. It’s how we self-care, self-love, and self-heal. And those things are spiritual in the sense that it’s a way to nourish our souls. That’s how we do simple rites of reclamation…”

Click here to read more of the interview between Mario LaMothe and Christina Nafziger.

Photo Credit: UIC African-American Cultural Center; Conceived and designed by UIC MUSE Contributors; Directed and installed by Mario LaMothe.

What is the purpose of an altar?