koštana banović
May I Enter
(video, 57 min, 2010)

May I Enter is about encounter to collaboration with shamans of Candomblé. I spent three months in Sacatar Foundation, an artist residence in Brazil, where I researched current Afro-Brazilian religious practices. I became acquainted with the local Candomblé community and intrigued by the spirit possession ceremonies of the island. My experiences with this religion and my personal quest are central themes throughout the film.

May I Enter

May I Enter is a film essay in which the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé is not so much researched as experientially evoked.

Filmmaker and visual artist Koštana Banović returns to an island off the coast of Bahia (Brazil) where she was an artist in residence in Sacatar Foundation and became acquainted with the local Candomblé community. Intrigued by the spirit possession ceremonies of the island, where gods descend to mingle with humans and join rowdy parties of drumming, singing and dancing, Banović was eager to learn more. However, she found herself entering a universe of closed doors. Every step to get to know Candomblé proliferated contradicting stories and different ideas about what Candomblé is. Or was. Or what it ought to be.

She was instructed that Candomblé came into being when African slaves, descendants of the Yoruba and Bantu speaking peoples, sought to pursue their religious beliefs and practices in the New World, disguising their deities, the orishas, as catholic saints, and fusing African aesthetics with elements of colonial baroque and indigenous cultures. She was told that the initiate gives his or her body to the orisha, who yearn to be among the humans and dance away the night.

She noticed that, besides being a religious practice, Candomblé also become a tourist spectacle; a source of inspiration for local writers, artists, filmmakers, dancers and musicians; that the cult was interpreted as a token of black resistance and emancipation; a fortress of female power and matriarchy in a “macho” culture; an exemplary “tolerant” religion that supports gay rights; and a money-generating industry, selling all kinds of spiritual products and services. And yet, all of these narratives and explanations seemed to lead her away from the mystery of spirit possession. Every door that was opened only led to another closed door.

Determined to continue her explorations, Banović mobilized her art.

Throughout her oeuvre – drawings, performances, movies – Koštana Banović never hesitated to engage in rituals as a means to reduce the distance between Self and the Other, represented by the cultures encountered during her many travels. The representatives of the Other, were for her the inhabitants of faraway countries where she travelled; the psychiatric patients in the Netherlands, with whom she repeatedly initiated art collaborations as well her former countrymen in Bosnia, where she was born, but who turned out to be strangers when she revisited her native Sarajevo, after many years of war and absence. The travels have shown that the Other was to be found within, as a disturbing yet inextricable part of Self.

Banović’ artistic interest in rituals follows her intuition that it is the narratives that keep Self and Other apart. The stories that we tell about ourselves and about others are evocative of our desire to be in control of reality: to control naming, defining and classifying of Self and Other as neatly distinguished categories.

Rituals, on the other hand, engage the body and the senses. They by-pass the universe of words and thoughts. They blur the clear distinctions of language. And they thus open up a space beyond control, where the notions of Self and Other can be reinvented. Her performance of The ritual of 41 beans (a Bosnian divinatory practice and a dissoluble aspect of her own identity) sought to minimize the distance between herself and the others (the visitors) and to open up communication by introducing the forces of the accidental. (The beans are ‘thrown’, arranged in constellations and then the `reading' takes place: pronouncements are made about the future, the fate, and in particular about the love life of the client.). The investigation of this reduction of distance, as well as research into the distance from herself, is a recurring feature of Banović’ work.

In May I Enter Banović takes her exploration of the relation between Self and Other a step further. Faced with a cult where Self is annihilated to allow an invasion of otherness, and inspired by this radical form of (dis)embodiment, she no longer seeks to approximate Other, but to become it. On film, she documents the (im)possibility of that project. Moving back and forth between the position of an outsider-witness of ceremonies (a camerawoman who observes and remains at a distance) and of a participating insider (a person truly involved, who sacrifices to her orishas) Banović seeks to immerse into Candomblé in many ways and senses.

Yet as in all authentic explorations into Other, no final answers are reached. The original questions remain ever more pertinent. Has Banović thus encountered the real truth of Candomblé? Who is Other? Who is Self? Are there artistic, filmic ‘languages‘ capable to undo the Divide?

Text by Dr. M.P.J. van de Port
Text by Dr. M.P.J. van de Port Professor of Popular Religiosity VU University Amsterdam

(excerpt 5 minute)
Drawings from the series Casting Gods (2006 - 2009)