Back in 2011 I wrote about a forthcoming exhibition of Vodou art at the Nottingham Contemporary in the UK.
That was before I had visited the Lehmann Collection and conversed with the spirits of the tradition, in the flesh so to speak. That exhibition, Vodou ; Kunst Und Kult Aus Haiti, and this new one are very different in nature. Everything about the Lehmann Collection oozes ritual use. It’s no wonder that the exhibition has featured mainly in ethnological museums. It is about the artifacts of a Bizango secret society and they captivate their audiences.
This exhibition, Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodu, whilst showing something of the history of Haiti, which is inexorability linked with Vodou has more of the feel of a traditional art exhibition. The three gallery rooms do hold many fascinating and visually stunning pieces of Haitian art and Leah Gordon and Alex Farquharson (the Director of the gallery) have done a fantastic job in curating and bringing together over 180 works from different galleries and private collections from the 1940s to the present day. There is no escaping the gallery setting however and even some of the fabulous recycled assemblages of Celeur Jean Herard seem more like muddy object d’art than living representations of the Lwa.
It is a very difficult distinction to make. Many of the artists are also Vodou Hougan’s (or priests) and its impossible for an artists not to manifest something of that lineage in their work. For me it was some of the paintings of Préfète Duffaut which in their flattened plains spoke of the Invisibles, or Les Mysteries, as the Haitian spirits are known. Further inspection of the exhibition guidebook and discussion with Leah confirmed that of all the works on show, only a handful of the drapo (flags) were actually used in Vodou ceremonies. Regardless this is an evocative and exciting exhibition which shows an artistic side to Haiti’s culture with is so often overshadowed by the natural disasters the country as faced in recent years.
The exhibition is on until January 2013.
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