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5384: Review of Vodou art in London, UK (fwd)
From: Charles Arthur <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Keywords: Vodou, art, London
>From The Times newspaper
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 18 2000
THE TIMES - VISUAL ART
The voodoo that pins you
Despite official bans, voodoo survives in full colour in Haiti, says Rhoda
THE term “voodoo” conjures up images of devil dolls and the walking dead,
but the true story of this Haitian art, on show at London’s October Gallery,
is, while less lurid, in a way more thrilling. The animistic religion was
banned for 150 years by slave owners, and by the republic’s black rulers for
another 150 — the former were terrified by it, the latter embarrassed. But
the religion thrived in secret, subverting enemies it could not defy, in a
country with so little hope of happiness in this world — Haiti has long been
the poorest and most illiterate country in the western hemisphere.
The Catholic Church tried for centuries to drive out “vodou” (its
supporters, says Leah Gordon, author of The Book of Vodou, are trying to
replace the American spelling suggestive of Hollywood zombies, with the
Creole one). In response, vodou priests incorporated the Virgin into their
religion, making her a love goddess with a trinity of boyfriends. Her
followers seek to please her with offerings of perfume, pink champagne, and
her favourite cigarettes (Virginia Slims, of course).
Vodou art entered the secular world only in the 1940s, when ethnographers
publicised it and dealers encouraged it. The latter, says Gordon, provided
canvas for painters who before then had been decorating only temple walls.
The directness and vigour of vodou art delighted, among others, André
Malraux, who called it the only magical painting of the 20th century. Vodou
artists, Gordon agrees, “represent the spirits the same way that
14th-century Italians did the saints”. Coloured fuchsia and violet and
turquoise, their gods of field and sea and forest float through the picture
plane as expressively as they do through their painters’ lives.
Vodou dolls in Haiti are not named after one’s enemies and jabbed with pins:
they sit on the altar to help worshippers communicate with the spirits. But
they have begun to acquire a more sinister aspect. A load of unwanted Barbie
dolls were dumped in Port-au-Prince market a while ago, and today — well,
let’s just say that, when it comes to memories of blood-baths or a straight
line to the unconscious, the artists of the Royal Academy have nothing on
those of Haiti.
Catching the Spirit is on at the October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street,
London, until Nov 11 (020 7242 7367)
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