HAITI’S GLITTERING VOUDON FLAGS:
STITCHING RELIGION INTO ART

At the Mishkin Gallery, Feb. 7 to March 6, 2003

Bookmark and Share
Image of Voudon drapo or flag

BARUCH COLLEGE, NEW YORK, NY (2/05/03) -- The glittering sequined flags--known as drapo in Kreyol--that adorn Haiti’s voudon temples are emblems of the island’s religious traditions, history and cultural life. Used to invoke and honor the loa, or spirits of the voudon pantheon, the richly adorned flags draw their origins from the beadwork and applique artforms of the Fon, Ewe and Yoruba ethnic groups, as well as the intricate sacred signatures of the Kongo religion. Manifestations of faith as well as artistry, they are magnificently varied in color and design. Each flag reflects the personality of the loa it is made to honor. Since hundreds of loas exist, each with his own personality and favorite foods, trees and colors, voudon flagmakers have a nearly infinite panoply of symbols, colors and designs on which to draw.

More than 50 voudon flags, by anonymous, traditional and contemporary Haitian artisans, make up the exhibition Sequined Surfaces: Haitian Voudon Flags at Baruch’s Mishkin Gallery, Friday, February 7 through Thursday, March 6, 2003. The opening reception is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 6, 2003, 5-7 pm. This exhibition includes flags by artisans whose work is rooted in their communities as well as more recent flagmakers, including Myrlande Constant and Georges Valris, who incorporate more painterly or whimsical elements into their work. As the artistry has evolved, some of today’s voudon flags are made for purely commercial or decorative purposes.

Because voudon itself is a mix of Catholicism and the indigenous religions of Central and West Africa, the iconography of voudon flags combines European and African elements. Many loa have direct counterparts in the saints of the Catholic Church. For example, the Haitian goddess of love, Erzulie Freda, correlates with the Virgin Mary, and Damballah, a great and respected father as well as a symbol of fertility, is linked to St. Patrick.

The creation of each voudon flag is a labor-intensive process. Traditionally, the flags are designed by voudon priests (houngan) or priestesses (mambo) while more humble members of the voudon society painstakingly stitch the sequins; it may take as much as a month to complete a single flag. In the process, the cloth is clamped onto a wooden stretcher and each artisan works on a different area, much as American women would do at a quilting bee. Many of the sequins and glass beads used can be found in and around the Port-au-Prince Iron Market.

Curated by Candice Russell, an authority on Haitian art, this hugely colorful exhibition dazzles the eye while exploring the history and culture of Haiti. The exhibition is organized by ExhibitsUSA, a national division of Mid-American Arts Alliance, a private non-profit organization founded in 1972.

The Mishkin Gallery is located at 135 E. 22 Street, New York City. Exhibition hours are Monday-Friday, 12 noon to 5 pm; Thursday, 12 noon to 7 pm. The Gallery is free and open to the public.

Related links :
-- Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou, an American Museum of Natural History online exhibit.

-- The Sidney Mishkin Gallery

N.B. In conjunction with this exhibition, a Caribbean Festival Concert will be held on Thursday, February 13, 2003 at 1:00 PM in Baruch College’s Rose Nagelberg Theater, 55 Lexington Avenue at 24th St.