Kerfe's Reviews > Art That Heals: The Image as Medicine in Ethiopia

Art That Heals by Jacques Mercier
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's review
Jul 06, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction, visual-arts

A review of an exhibit of Ethiopian healing scrolls in the NY Times led me to this book in the library. Mercier goes beyond the scrolls in a search for source and context, not just form, but "ways of being".

The images are stunning--I missed the exhibit, but I can imagine from these illustrations the strong visual effect of these works. The talismanic scrolls are life-size, made to mirror the patient; the mesmerizing ritual combinations of magic text, prayer, illustration, always the hypnotic eyes, geometric patterns, Solomon's seals, snakes, lions, angels, demons,...these works are complex and astounding.

The author shows that Ethiopian religious practice has multiple influences: Greece and the Mediterranian, the Old Testament and Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He relates both Ethiopian Christian symbols and talismanic scrolls to the use of Icons and discusses how the culture has adopted the symbol of the cross as opposed to the Crucifix for ritual and healing. He considers the shamanic image in relation to Art Brut. Mercier even speaks about the problems of showing works arising out of alien artistic/magic/life contexts in Western museums. It's a wide ranging book.

But most memorably, thre is the art. These are powerful images; scholars can infer sources and intent, but, as Mercier points out, they can never know for sure. Perhaps the shamans purposefully made them so. It is part of the mystery and wonder.

We bring ourselves to their creations; the mirror that is the talisman shows us that which we need to see.

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