Sunday, March 28, 2010

Saints & Sinners: Haitian Vodou Art at the CAC

Much has been made of the historic connections between Haiti and New Orleans, links ranging from Creole cuisine and voodoo to politically prominent names such as Barthelemy and Boissiere among others. Even prominent local jewelry designer Mignon Faget as well as famous 19th century New Orleans figures such as the composer, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and international chess champion, Paul Morphy, hail from Haitian family origins. And the kinship between the suits worn by Mardi Gras Indians and the sequin and bead work in this SAINTS & SPIRITS show of Haitian voodoo flags, ritual objects and costumes at the Contemporary Arts Center, should be obvious to anyone who cares to look closely. Both traditions reflect a centuries old mingling of African, Native American and European influences, as does voodoo--or more properly, “vodou”--in what amounts to an exotic form of Christianity in which saints and spirits comprise a varied pantheon of divinities. The connection between Christian martyrs and vodou spirits, or “loas,” is sometimes, but not always, evident, in these works assembled by Louisiana artist and Haitian art aficionado Tin Girouard, but they are all extremely colorful and beautifully crafted, regardless.

Vodou flags are based on the stylized images of spirits or saints, or else their abstract designs, called “veves,” as we see in the veve for Simbi, bottom, serpent of the waters above and below. Master artist Jean Louis Edgar employs pristine beadwork in tapestries such as ST. ROSE-ERZULIE, in which Erzulie, the voodoo spirit of compassion and femininity appears as St. Rose, a Catholic saint of compassion. In a corner of the gallery, a large altar covered with sequined and beaded objects as well as banners adorned with sacred or talismanic images recalls an unusually exotic St. Joseph’s Day altar. And indeed, those objects are there to symbolically feed the saints and spirits. Some tapestries hark more closely to the loas’s origins as nature spirits.  Master sequin artist Antoine Oleyant’s BOSOU AND DAMBALA, top, portrays the protector spirit Bosou with Dambala, the wise serpent of peace and prosperity. We can only hope its ideal of peace, prosperity and protection comes to pass. ~Bookhardt

 SAINTS & SPIRITS: The Art of Haiti
Through June 6
Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528-3800;