Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Power of Haitian Art










When I was touring resorts in Harbour Island, I was struck by a dazzling collection of Haitian art covering the walls of  a gorgeous, ocean front cottage.  The fact that my focus was drawn to a few wall hangings in the midst of a sprawling, sun -kissed, property speaks to the power of Haitian art. I immediately recognized them as Haitian drapo vodou or ceremonial vodou flags, by the distinctive beading and sequin work. As I follow the tragedy of the Haitian earthquake, I often think of the resilence of Haitian culture. The art, music and spirit of Haiti continues to survive in the face of centuries of hardship and opression.

Despite the stereotypes and misinformation, Vodou remains a syncretic relligion that combines ancient African spiritual beliefs with Catholicism, in much the same way as Cuban Santeria, Brazilian Candomble and Jamaican Obeah and it does not involve devil worship.  Instead, Vodou acknowledges one God, as well as other spiritual beings. Those beings, called lwa (pronounced (LO ah) are the deities represented on Vodou flags. Traditionally, these banners are carried on poles and waved during the beginning of ceremonies. They are created by hougans or mambos, Vodou priests and priestessess.  During the 70s, French tourists recognized the beauty of  the flags, spurring art collectors  to create a market for them.

The flags displayed above were crafted by the Haitian artist, George Valris. The concentrated beading and sequin work, which often takes up to 10 days to complete, indicate that they are strictly for display. The heaviness of the sequins would make it difficult to wave these banners. The first two illustrate "La Sirene" the mermaid  manifestization of Erzulie, the spirit of love and beauty. She is one of the most popular lwa on drapo vodou, as she symbolizes wealth and luck. The last one portrays "Gran Bois," the sacred spirit in the trees. These art works may simply look like pretty pictures but they represet the triumph of Haitian culture. Vodou and its practicioners have been killed and persecuted for generations and yet it lives on, through the appreciation of art lovers around the world and through the unyielding Haitian spirit.

16 comments:

Tiffany said...

This artwork is beautiful.

Fly Girl said...

Tiffany, Its stunning in person!

Ekua said...

Great post, I'm glad you're clearing up stuff about Vodou. Along with Santeria, Candomble, etc, it's a very misunderstood religion!

Fly Girl said...

Ekua, thanks. There are so many misconceptions about anything involving African beliefs so I try to inform as much as possible.

Amanda said...

Beautiful - thanks for sharing!

A Cuban In London said...

What a stunning post and the images are exceptional. You're quite about voodoo, an ancient culture that has sadly been misinterpreted for centuries. Also, Haitian dance has influenced our very own Afro-Cuban dance stock. For instance, gaga (accented on the second 'a', so don't confuse with the pop singer) is a very energetic dance of ewe-fon origin that arrived in eastern Cuba with the first Haitian immigrants in the 1800s. What voodoo, santeria and candomble have in common (not too sure about obeah) is that they used to be (note the past) polytheistic. Once that synchretic process you mentioned took place, they were turned into monotheistic religions, like the Abrahamic faiths. It goes to show that the western influence on a country like Haiti, was not just from an economic point of view, but also from a social and cultural perspective.

Many thanks for such an informative and wonderfully written post.

Greetings from London.

Anonymous said...

Art sale to benefit Haitian earthquake victims - http://www.medalia.net/store/earthquakerelief.html

Fly Girl said...

Amanda, you're welcome!

Cubano, thanks so much. Haitian dance is a whole other post! Katherine Dunham pioneered intricate Haitian dances here and the influence continues.

Annonymous, thanks for the link to some interesting Haitian art.

Toni said...

That artwork is beautiful! Let's just hope that, perhaps, vodou can offer the Hatians some comfort in their time of need.

Fly Girl said...

Toni, that's exactly what vodou has done through centuries of Haitian persecution. Thanks for dropping by.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

As Haiti has come into focus around the world, it's good to see some of the beauty it has produced.

shantiwallah said...

Wonderful art! Thank you for posting:-)

Catherine said...

I have one of those pieces of drapo vodou on the wall behind me in my flat here in Mexico city... and guess where I bought it?? Oak Park Chicago in a gallery which specialises in haitian art...
the images from Haiti are so disturbing - Mexico is sending a lot of aid and 2 teams of Moles (small mexicans who specialise in burrowing underground to rescue earthquake victims) and in our school we are coordinating a huge contribution - but it is so harrowing to see how LONG it has taken reelief to get there and emergency teams to start work..why???

Fly Girl said...

Jean-Luc, I hope they never forget Haiti's beauty.

Shanti, thanks.

Catherine,I live right down the street from that gallery! It's one of my favorites. I'm so glad that Mexico is sending help. It's taken so long because Haiti never had much infrastructure, there's very little organization to connect agencies to the right channels. It has gotten better now but its an uphill battle.

Wendy said...

The artwork is beautiful. As always I learn something when stopping by. The nightmare in Haiti continues with another earthquake this morning. It seems that no one is in charge. I hope that means that aid goes directly to the people instead of into the hands of corrupt govt officials.

Fly Girl said...

Wendy, the infrastructure has always been week and the people who would help with relief efforts have died in the quake. Some people still don't have food and water but progress is slowly being made.