Mar 03, 2013 News
Vintage Vodu flags will be exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the US – a total of twenty states. Curators, art aficionados and religio-cultural enthusiasts are expected to welcome these original ceremonial flags that were first purchased in Haiti by collector, Dr. Thomas Shultz.
Pedagogical in depth and scope, the 2013-2016 tour, which kicks off in South Dakota, offers a rare glimpse into the mores of the Haitian people, raising their profile at a time when that country remains in the throes of socio-economic and political upheaval.
Lawrence Rodriguez whose Casa Frela Museum at one time housed these flags, expressed optimism that the national travelling show will help deconstruct the pernicious myth about Vodu that is rooted in Hollywood sensationalism. “Everyone will come away with a sense of the wholeness of the Haitian culture. They will experience the rich lifestyle, religion and culture. For sure, the image perpetuated by Hollywood – that Vodu is a dark, mystical practice will be challenged,” according to Rodriguez.
“The experience will elevate Haitian artistic artistry,” which he views as comparable to the very best.
Visitors will be treated to sixteen flags, each representing a loa or sprit in the Vodu pantheon. The colourful, sequined flags were all used in actual ceremonies, and, unlike the more commercial copies or prints that are flooding the market, they are believed to be imbued with palpable energy.
Rodriguez explained the integral role of these flags to every bona fide vodu ceremony. Instructive and deliberate, he emphasized that any spiritual exercise is invalidated without the infusion of the flags. “At the beginning of the ceremony, the flag is hoisted and carried by an appointed bearer. The presence of the loa is then invoked or invited. Amid drumming and possession the flag is placed at the respective altar.”
The flag of Damballah, said to be the father of the loas – the chief god or spirit, is one of the most magnetically vivid pieces of art. With sequined beads and a gold and silver backdrop, a ceremonial tree and two serpents are starkly imprinted.
Equally alive is the portrayal of the loa, Ersulie. Her flag is embossed in a kaleidoscope of colours, a gold ring, hearts, and the letter M which connotes her maternal nature. Its essence befits the goddess of love and beauty. Ersulie is known for her poetic passion, unfathomable aesthetic appeal and elegance.
Another distinct flag portrays the august, key role of Baron Samedi. As popular myth would have it, this loa was said to be closely associated with former Haitian leader, Papa Doc Duvalier. Baron Samedi is widely considered the protector of children and caretaker of the grave. His flag is depicted with symmetrical symbols of the crossbones and the skull. Its black and pink contrasting colours create a piercing atmosphere of introspection, foreboding and admonishment.
Rodriquez is expectant of a successful tour. He believes that it will reconnect the Haitian Diaspora, many of whom have only heard about Vodu flags. “This is not only propitious for the art world, “ he said, “but the best medium for 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation Haitians to experience their ancestry in truly an educational environment.
Regrettably, these flags may not ever return to Haiti. Original and a seal of provenance, the value of the flags have increased exponentially with a price tag hovering around US $1 million.
Rodriquez balked at the suggestion that the purchase of the flags was another example of neo-colonial rape and exploitation. He argued that the sheer beauty of the flags caught the eye of an individual traveler to Haiti who purchased them, for, what was a reasonable price at the time.
“For Haitians at home, this will revive the art of authentic flag making, which can be tedious and time consuming, but rewarding, “ Rodriguez said. ‘It is a specialized field and should be treated as such. Haitians, I am sure will rediscover the art of their ancestors.”
Rooted in oral tradition, the creation and significance of the flag has been shrouded in secrecy – the keys guarded by the hougan or Vodu priests. As such, there is a paucity of written work on the subject. The exhibit will at least open the door for further exploration and understanding into this fascinating world of Vodu.
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