Sacred Symbols in Sequins - Vintage Haitian Vodou Flags

A traveling exhibition with ExhibitsUSA
Opens 1/28/2013

Symbols in Sequins - Vintage Haitian Vodou Flags For many Americans, the term Vodou brings up unfortunate Hollywood-inspired imagery involving hexes and curses, but visitors to Sacred Symbols in Sequins will gain new insights to the beauty and sanctity of Haitian Vodou after viewing 16 exquisite early to mid-20th century Haitian Vodou flags (drapo Vodou). Six stunning Vodou libation bottles and eight portraits of contemporary Vodou practitioners by renowned photographer Phyllis Galembo provide a context for these dazzling sequin- and bead-encrusted ceremonial banners.

These magnificent works of art offer compelling stories about the relationships between cultures. For generations, skilled Haitian flag makers have formed remarkable mosaics of religious imagery by combining and juxtaposing symbols of Europe and the Americas with those brought from Africa centuries ago by captive slaves. Educational materials accompanying the exhibition elucidate the symbols within the flags and explore commonalities between Vodou and Catholicism, New World and Old. Visitors to Sacred Symbols in Sequins familiar with ceremonies such as Mexico’s Day of the Dead and Brazil’s Carnaval will find common ground, while craftspeople that weave, sew, make quilts or work with beads will find inspiration in these spectacular works of art.

The spiritual realm reflected in Symbols in Sequins is not the dark, frightening place of black magic and superstition so often stereotyped in American popular culture. Instead, flags exemplify the force and elegance of Vodou gods (lwa). Highlighted in the exhibition are flags dedicated to preeminent divinities including: creator figures and divine serpents Ayida Wèdo and her husband Danbala Wèdo (who is often represented as St. Patrick and Moses); Ogou Sen Jak, a fierce protector spirit associated with St. James Major; and Ezili Freda, the epitome of feminine beauty associated with the incarnation of Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Mount Calvary.

Although Vodou societies (sosyete) generally possess at least two flags which represent both their congregation and the deities they worship, the traditional or “old style” ceremonial flags (drapo sèvis) included in this exhibition are exceedingly rare. Aesthetically impressive in their own right, flags are important within Vodou as powerful liturgical objects. When utilized in rituals, they exemplify not only the transcendent beauty of the lwa, but also the deities’ active presence within the temple (ounfò). For this reason, flags are among the most sacred and expensive ritual implements in the ounfò, and their presence is essential in key Vodou rites, including initiation, invocation of the lwa, and pilgrimage.

As intricate works of art informed by ritual and theology, as well as by Haiti’s political history, such flags offer an unparalleled opportunity for viewers to experience the aesthetics, symbolism, and social implications of Vodou. By illustrating the essence of the religion as interpreted by practitioners, the flags also challenge us to rethink outsider conceptions of Haitian popular religion.

Exhibition Content
30 works, including beaded flags, bottles, and photographs

Patrick A. Polk, Curator of Caribbean and Latin American Popular Arts, Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles; Lawrence Rodriguez, Curator, Casa Frela Gallery, New York, New York

Organized by
Casa Frela Gallery, New York, New York

Tour Schedule
1/28/2013 - 3/16/2013 
4/6/2013 - 5/25/2013
6/16/2013 - 8/11/2013
9/1/2013 - 10/20/2013 
11/10/2013 - 1/7/2014
1/28/2014 - 3/16/2014
4/6/2014 - 5/25/2014
 Spurlock Museum
Urbana, IL
6/16/2014 - 8/11/2014
Spurlock Museum
Urbana, IL
9/1/2014 - 10/20/2014
11/10/2014 - 1/7/2015
1/28/2015 - 3/16/2015
4/6/2015 - 5/25/2015
6/16/2015 - 8/11/2015
9/1/2015 - 10/20/2015
11/10/2015 - 1/7/2016
 Available Date

March 3, 2013 article, Vodu exhibit captivates US, by Dr Glenville Ashby in the "Kaieteur News" of Guyana. This article was simultaneously released in six Caribbean publications.