Sunday, February 3, 2019

Bondye: Between and Beyond: Sequined Voodoo Flags by Tina Girouard and Haitian Artists

In the 1960s, Tina Girouard was part of an influential group of avant garde New York artists from Louisiana that included Lynda Benglis, Dickie Landry, Keith Sonnier and Robert Rauschenberg. She  eventually returned to her Acadiana home turf where she immersed herself in not only her native Cajun culture but also in the Afro-Caribbean cultures that markedly influenced so much of our rich Creole heritage. During visits to her studio in Haiti, where she worked with legendary vodou flag makers such as Edgar Jean-Louis and George Valris, Girouard fashioned these large beaded and sequined "Vodou drapos" that, while mostly remaining true to traditional Haitian symbolism, occasionally reveal Louisiana influences as well. That influence is most obvious in one of her most aesthetically compelling works, “La Sirenne,” a metaphysical mermaid and goddess of the sea's currents and creatures, as well as of magic and the psyche. Here she is a Creole sea siren who, in a nod to Louisiana's Creole culture, wields a saxophone, an instrument with serpentine lines that complement the Medusa-like eels that that make up her tightly coiled hairdo.

If the saxophone seems unexpected, it really reflects vodou's syncretic ability to incorporate African, Native American, Roman Catholic and other global influences across time and space. That sensibility is exemplified in “Legba,” the guardian of time and the crossroads –a reminder that the old African notion of the crossroads infuses American music legends, most notably blues great Robert Johnson's famous pact with the devil at the crossroads. One of the most imposing images here is the serpent “Damballah” whose knowledge and creativity gave birth to the universe and all things in it.

“Erzulie” is a flirtatious loa who embodies the spirit of Venus and the Virgin Mary, whereas Ogou is the Afro-Haitian version of Mars, the spirit of iron and warfare who enabled Haitians armed with mere machetes to defeat Napoleon's powerful army and create the first Caribbean island nation. Here Girouard celebrates Haiti's influence on Louisiana's deep international roots. ~Bookhardt / Bondye: Between and Beyond: Sequined Voodoo Flags by Tina Girouard and Haitian Artists, Through June 16th, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.