My name is Alann De Vuyst, from Belgium, residing in Sri Lanka since 2016. My last brick and mortar gallery exhibition was in Berlin at the Artisan Galerie in Kreuzberg in 2018.
When people looked at my work (1990 until 2002) from a distance, they were startled and thought they saw tribal (aboriginal) art from Australia. They notice the dots and lines, zigzags and curves, and strange symbols found in Aboriginal pieces.
However, when they took a second look, at a closer range, they noticed erotic (phallic) symbols which the unaware, average viewer got shocked by, disgusted or often just plainly amused. Once they recomposed themselves they uttered; "Why do you paint like that?" In an accusatory manner, they added that I had no right to use those graphics because I was not an Aboriginal. As if I had stolen something or claimed something to which I was not entitled.
Time tends to let people forget their ancestral images. We, Westerners, had the Visigoths, Celts and Vikings, to name a but a few, who used patterns similar, if not identical, to those of the Aborigines.
Our own heritage is rich - just think of the caves of the Neolithic era in Altamira in Spain or Lascaux in France, the famous Cerne Abbas Giant of Dorset in the UK. When I first saw the latter, it gave me the feeling I wasn't painting anything new, but merely continuing what had always been there. It was pleasant to discover how Ancient cultures used to worship the lingam (the phallus), as a source of fertility and divine power. Looking back to childhood, we all made primitive drawings in the sand or on paper. We'd draw only the essential lines for fingers or legs and that's what attracted me to tribal art: the simple but accurate lines and dots and the in-your-face striking colours.
Tribal art, of course, is not art for art's sake - everything is connected to everyday life. Their crockery, utensils, are decorated to give it a life and sacredness. In indigenous cultures, all graphics have a meaning, whether painted on cloth, a vase or on a body. So, for me to merely copy what is "tribal" would be foolish. In my work I have always been a narrator, a storyteller, be it spiritually or erotically.
There is no society that does not depict its sexual life, much of which has been erased by intolerant civilisations, especially during the Judaeo-Christian era. Such was the case for Egypt's art, (destroyed by Copts). It has happened in Persepolis, during the Islamic Revolution, led by Ayatollah Khomeini and mullahs. In India, with all of its erect marble stones, the middle-class man is shocked when he is confronted with the marvels of the Kama Sutra sculptures at the Khajurahao temple complex. About which Mahatma Gandhi once said, that "the best thing to do would be to bury the whole Khajurahao site again to avoid the corruption of the country's young minds". All this bigotry and falsification became the driving force behind my work; to (re)create art that could defy Taliban censorship and destruction of sacred and ancient art. Nevertheless, social media and galleries still try to filter out my 'strong' pieces.
The whole thing started after my first visit to Brazil where I met autodidact painters in the northeastern states and in particular, in Cuiaba, capital of Mato Grosso. The art they made was called Arte Primitivo or Arte Caboclo. A 'caboclo ' is someone with Indian blood or someone who lives like an Indian on the fringes of the jungle. In some ways, one can compare their art with the naive art movement that emerged in Europe with Douanier Rousseau. Only Caboclo art is more indigenous with a much looser style and more vividly coloured.
In 1995, I was still painting semi-realistic works in the studio of the Federal University of Mato Grosso State, Brazil. However, upon my return, to my native Belgium, all that I had seen was still lingering on in my mind. I wanted to get away from the harsh topics of politics and themes like aids, which I used to paint in Europe before I went to Brazil. My stay with the Xavante Indians, invited by a chieftain, who had adopted me in a Xavante their clan through a blood pact, had clearly given me hints to return to the things I drew in my mid-teens.
When I continued travelling eastwards and finally visited Asia there was no more turning back. I saw 'primitive, naive art' there, too. It was as if my head began to blend and uproot everything in my subconsciousness while I was trying to register the input of colours and graphics from India and Nepal on my retina.
In 1994, in West-Bengal, there were the painted scrolls, called Pothuas, made by the indigenous Santhali people, the tantric paintings in Hindu temples, the Rajasthani miniatures of Maharajas mating with monkeys and young men and women, the Terai Mithala female art, which originated in the state of Bihar (India) (which is painted on floors and walls by women), HIndu scrolls depicting skeletons mating with women in shrines, and Lord Shiva's erect penis ready to fornicate with his one of his consorts, Parvati. There is Maha Kali¹s tribal black- voodoo-like power which sent shivers through my spine. Seeing all this (much of which is now hidden from the general public) has only confirmed that I was on the right track with my art.
1995, took me back to Brazil, where I witnessed a festival called Festa do Divino, the feast of the Holy Spirit, in the city of Pirinopolis, which is basically a replay of the Crusades (where the Crusaders are the victors.).
During a two-week period, masked men, in authentic costumes, on horseback, gallop and rampage through the hilly cobbled streets of the city. They wear masks representing the faces of bulls; their huge papier-mâché horns decorated with paper flowers and garlands. The mostly drunken participants create an atmosphere of carnivalesque debauchery, which they (ab)use, as masked men, -to secretly rape a maiden or two, or to settle a few scores with a perennial foe. This lewd behaviour is not visible during the day, only drunkenness makes turns them into vile gauchos to avoid. the weeks inspired me to sketch them live from the streets and imagine what goes on in their heads. Such is a picture of the horned riders hanging from the belly-like a plains Indian would- of their stallion. Some I made look like if they were one with the animal they rode and copulated. the rider being sodomised, or an act of fellatio between mount and rider, which in turn I realised was inspired by the zoophilic acts I had seen in Khajuraho temples.
Finally, in 1996, back In Thailand, I was still following that lead and continued to paint my reptile-like creatures. The bull-men- evolved into more humane creatures without horns, but still fornicated with anything they could lay their claws on. The stage was ready more demonic creatures, demon or god-like, with a pinch of Mayan/Aztec codex-style like setting, sometimes in a futuristic environment or in the middle of a tantric dance.
From 2005 I lived in South America, where in Bolivia I got admitted to a secretive circle of Inca descendent schollars in shamanism known in Aymara as Amautas. I lived there in La Paz and I was introduced to the world of sacred hallucinogenic plants (cacti known as San Pedro or in Qechua as Huachuma). From November 2005 to September 2006 I lived in Peru, mostly in Cuzco where I had a ton of exhibitions and more ceremonies with San Pedro and later with Ayahuasca. My art took a big turn partly stimulated by the entheos plants and the visions I had in group and alone. I studied the Incas and pre Inca cultures in the next 10 years of visiting and living with Andean cultures. Still, today, orgasm, ecstasy, Eros, and Thanatos are never far away in my work.
A Native American artist once said: "The best way to preserve tradition is to continuously reinvent it.”