Friday, November 11, 2011

Haitian art in Waterloo, Ia

Scavenger hunt at WAC

            I visited the Waterloo Arts Center this week to look at the Haitian art work that was on display.  It was hard to find, I had to ask where it started, and the Bahamas exhibit was labeled quite well.  They have a messed up system to how they display their exhibits.  They told me that there was more upstairs and there wasn’t much, just a few that definitely made it a scavenger hunt and the Ezili Freda was in a hidden spot also, but I found it.  The Haitian exhibit was mostly made up of flags that were made of beads, sequins and fabric; it followed the theme of possession and Vodou. 

            The term Vodou derives from the Fon word Vodun meaning spirit, deity or mystery.  The Fon brought their religion with them from Dahomey, now Benin, where it was combined with the religions of other African groups and synthesized with the Roman Catholic faith of the colonists.   Recently, this art form has seen revolutionary changes in stylistic variations, materials and techniques as new artists enter the arena, many of them bringing with them experience working in Haiti’s garment making factories. 

            These banners represented and honored Vodou deities or loas, and are used in religious ceremonies and hang in altar rooms.  They are considered to be sacred objects; in fact, they are made by artists that are religious leaders.  A skilled Haitian artisan can typically finish a banner in about ten to fourteen days of the average size banner containing approximately 30,000 beads and 30,000 sequins. 

            A few of the banners that we were to find was; Veve (symbol) of Ezili Freda (Feminine Rada Spirit of love and luxury), the sacrifice of Damballah/Danbala (Serpent deity associated with water, the rainbow, cool, and wisdom), Madonna/Ezili Danto (Petwo mother-warrior spirit, usually imaged as dark-skinned and known for her fierce protectiveness), and to look for the “Crossroads” and one metal sculpture labeled the “spirit possession.” 

           The sacrifice of Damballah/Danbala (the faithful, also the oldest of the ancestors), it serves as a ritual "magnet" for the loa's entrance, obliging the loa to descend to the earth, allowing the spirits to come down through Damballah.   As I look at the “spirit possession” (by Serge Jolimeau) piece, I cannot figure out who is riding the chawl, my first choice would be Mama Wata but the rider has legs, so I’m having trouble finding the rider.  There were also some paintings labeled Vodou and had great detail and messages in them as well, a lot of symbolism was shown.  I enjoyed looking at these pieces and it was nice to see them in person/up close.  I also can appreciate the time and care that went into these banners.

            On the view of the Bahamas art work, it was interesting to see the multi levels in the paintings as well.  There would be one or two main characters with characters (mirrored) off behind them, like echoes.  There was one in particular that really caught my eye, I didn’t get the title, but it in a sense could represent the Madonna and child.  There are multiple women in the painting with that echoed look of the other women’s faces behind the main one.  There is another younger looking woman to the lower right as you look at it, but near the bottom is a child’s face.  It makes me wonder about the power of women and the mothering nature that they have and represent, such that we have learned about with the other African cultures that we have seen and the representation of the Madonna and child.  No scars seem to show in the Bahamas print, just multiplicity.  I enjoyed seeing both exhibits.


  1. I agree, I was expecting to see more artwork upstairs! I was disappointed when I got up there, but I found the overall collection to be organized efficiently. It was kind of a maze to get through, but I think the pieces were displayed effectively. I enjoyed your information about the banners. I find it surprising they can finish one in such a short amount of time! I have never made anything like these, but I can appreciate the fine and intricate details as well. The sequins are beautiful. I also mentioned in my blog about new artists taking on the banners. I found a website that mentioned artists who have worked on wedding dresses are taking on sequin banners such as the ones we saw in the collection.

  2. Nice job and good critique, Tammy! I appreciate all your photos! I'm really glad you both saw the display (and documented it), since many of your classmates missed out.

  3. I agree, the building was a maze to get through which I found to be very frustrating. I too found that the upstairs exhibit was lacking in terms of how many pieces there were to look at. Although, I loved seeing the art in person and found the work to be very beautiful. I think you did a great job explaining the banners and I enjoyed your pictures.