ON RITUAL: Janine Antoni

“Lick & Lather” by Bahamian artist Janine Antoni consists of fourteen self-portrait busts that the artist cast in two materials, seven being in soap and seven being in chocolate.

Antoni was particularly interested in the fact that soap is made out of lard - animal fat - which means that we essentially clean the body with the body. She then decided to make a replica of herself in chocolate and soap so she would feed herself with herself, by licking the chocolate busts and also wash herself with herself, by bathing with the soap busts. Janine describes her performative work as love acts while also dealing with conflicts around our physical appearances.

“Lick & Lather” also forces us to rethink our prosaic rituals such as bathing and eating, employing her own body as a tool for consumption. As the artist washes her body with the marble-like soap busts, she is engaging in some sort of sacred yet highly intimate ceremony, confronting beliefs concerning her body. The same happens when she eats the chocolate, meticulously transforming the facial features, some resulting in more aggressive changes than others. This creates a circular narrative, moving simultaneously inwards and outwards.

Janine has stated before that besides the commentary on bathing and eating rituals, she also had in mind the rituals of Eucharist. According to the New Testament, the Eucharist was when Jesus Christ gave his disciples bread and wine during the Last Supper, referring to the bread as “His body” and the wine as “His blood”. It was a way to keep his own memory alive.

As the artist’s own identity fades away, Janine’s licking and lathering rituals place the importance of the piece in the making rather than on the final product. Remnants of these intimate rituals are also visible for the viewer: we can clearly see where her tongue was and where her body was pressed against the soap. It is through the rituals themselves that Janine is able to circle back, look at herself in the mirror and question: is this really who I am?

How can we contextualize daily rituals within the art making process? What separates a routine from a ritual?