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8071: Voodoo-Spirits in Haitian Art Exhibition in San Diego

From: bobrix@juno.com

Spirits in Haitian Art
San Diego Museum of Man          May 2001 — February 2002        R.C.

This new Voodoo exhibition at the Museum Of Man in San Diego’s Balboa
Park consists of more than one hundred objects by 50 artists dating from
1947 through 2001—paintings, beaded flags (drapo), Voodoo paraphernalia,
and sculptures fashioned from steel oil drums or wood. Jacmel artist
Prefete Duffaut introduces his “Island of Haiti-2001” in a new work that
incorporates twelve lwa (spirits) dispersed like “apostles’’ as guardians
across the terrain. All the works are from the private collection of La
Jolla resident Dr. Robert Brictson who also lives in Jacmel, Haiti, a
17th century coffee port where he has owned a gingerbread gallery-home
since 1973. The show also includes a 
13-minute film by Oscar winner Jonathan Demme that celebrates the talent
and perspectives of Edger Jean Baptiste who recalls his career before his
blindness in 1985. He is renowned for his vivid crepuscular sunsets,
narrative art and Voodoo spirits. Later, during Fall 2001, the
internationally renowned Danish filmmaker Jorgen Leth, who also is a
collector, has agreed to premier a new film, “The Dreamers,” which will
include rare footage of master artists over the last 20 years. Interviews
in the film will reveal “...another Haiti, where creativity and optimism
seem inexhaustible...a strong sense of historical destiny...”with
inspiration from the Voodoo universe and the dream of paradise.

Voodoo evolved as the predominant religion of the Haitian people by
merging many traditions imported by enslaved Africans to the New World.
Black and Carib peoples endured dehumanizing, tyrannical conditions for
five centuries. The diaspora and their exposure to European traditions,
including Roman Catholic practices, defined and differentiated Voodoo
beliefs and rituals. Art inspired by Voodoo provides new insights on the
beauty and mystery of Afro-Caribbean religion and culture. The show
celebrates resilience, imagination and creativity emerging from a
turbulent history of conquest, migration, genocide, greed, missionary
fervor, slavery, persecution, colonial racism and despotism. Creative
variations and visions in the arts emerged from revolution, independence
in 1804 and isolation of the first black republic as it evolved in a
Caribbean context where slavery continued for another 80 years. Voodoo
spirits also serve as muses, inspiring the miracle of Haitian art that
has since 1945 been internationally acclaimed by museums, galleries,
authors, critics and collectors. 

Basically, the collection challenges Hollywood images of Caribbean
religion and culture. Films portray menacing zombies rising from the dead
and dark jungle Voodoo rites targeting innocent intruders. Scenes of
curses, spells, possession, blood sacrifice and hints of cannibalism
distort the heritage and practices of Haitian religion and Afro-Caribbean
cultures. Since the 1930’s sensationalized views have been foisted on
American consciousness by Pop culture storytellers working in Hollywood
dream factories. More recently, public figures seeking memorable sound
bites also perpetuate negative stereotypes by ridicule of Voodoo
economics or science. Uninformed or thoughtless media, politicians and
musicians hope audiences will respond to such tabloid prose and
derogatory, pejorative use. Fortunately, anthropologists, ethnologists,
art historians and other scholars have traced the rituals and their
context, linking them to African roots. New patterns emerged in this
Caribbean crucible, transformed by the slave trade, colonial exploitation
and the mix of indigenous and exotic cultures.
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