Future Focus: Haitian Arts and Culture 2013

Future Focus: Haitian Arts and Culture 2013

By Dr. Iveta Pirgova

In the Fall of 2013 one of our focuses will be on the Haitian culture and artistic expressions as reflected in Vodou arts, music and dance.

Vodou is often described by researchers as the world’s most misunderstood belief system. The word Vodou itself (spelled Voodoo) is commonly used as an adjective to denigrate or ridicule whatever follows as unscientific, ill-intended, foolish or primitive, thus distorting and diminishing the cultural heritage and social practices of the Haitian people. For decades negative stereotypes associated with Vodou have been served to the American public by low-budget Hollywood “zombie” films and uninformed media publications mistakenly portraying this complex belief system as black magic. Images of dark rites, blood sacrifice and dolls with pins stuck in them influence perceptions of Haiti, Vodou and Vodou arts to this day. In recent years, however, more and more arts and cultural institutions have challenged such images and stereotypes by presenting exquisite exhibits of Vodou arts as well as diverse programs featuring Haitians traditions, music and dance.

The Haitian project highlights will include: an exhibition, educational programs as well as music and dances performances.

The exhibition, Remembering Ginen: Haitian Vodou Bottles, Flags and Vèvèwill be on display in the Museum of American Glass from September 20, 2013 to January 5, 2014. Its major focus is on the artworks of the Haitian artist Kesler Pierre. Kelser is a contemporary artist who creates the sacred bottles that adorn Vodou altars, the ceremonial rattle (ason) used in Vodou performances and elaborate vèvè designs that derive from cosmograms traced on the floors during Vodou rituals. The exhibition also includes displays of traditional beaded Vodou bottles thus providing a comparison of techniques and designs and creating a context for better understanding the essential meanings these items carry in the traditional Haitian culture. Some of them are created by the Haitian artist Lina Michel and some others were obtained from the private collections of Lois Wilcken and Angus Kress Gillespie. Displays of Haitian Vodou flags complete the exhibition design thus providing a more comprehensive understanding of the Vodou ceremonies and their meaning as reflected in the art works of the Haitian flag makers. The flags included in this exhibition are a valuable part of the private collection of Nancy Josephson and Ted Frankel. Photographs of Vodou rituals made by Kesler Pierre and additional explanatory panels provide the necessary cultural context that connects symbolism and artistry thus contributing to more holistic experience of the Haitian culture and artistic expressions.

Presentations on Haitian Vodou arts include a workshop Haitian Vévé Designs with Kesler Pierre, November 9, Saturday 2pm to 4pm and Spirits in Sequins: Vodou Flags of Haiti, a presentation by Nancy Josephson, November 10 (Sunday), 12 (noon) – 1pm.

The concert, Remembering Ginen: Traditional Music and Dance of Haiti,November 10, 3pm-5pm, features La Troupe Makandal of New York). For this concert La Troupe Makandal will present a suite created from the dances, the songs, and the drumming styles brought to Haiti from West Africa and the Congo region. The program will tell the stories of the various peoples who survived enslavement, struggled for and won independence, and established the modern state of Haiti. Haitian people remember and celebrate their history through the arts, and these include music and dance. Makandal’s work also derives from Vodou, an Afro-Haitian spiritual practice that honors and serves the ancestors and the forces of nature. The Troupe’s program will also include an interactive music and dance workshop for all in the audience. La Troupe Makandal creates dynamic music and dance experiences one does not soon forget and we invite you all to share them with us.