Living at the Crossroads: Three Exhibitions/Caribbean: Art at the Crossroads of the World/Kafou

By Benson, LeGrace | Journal of Haitian Studies, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Living at the Crossroads: Three Exhibitions/Caribbean: Art at the Crossroads of the World/Kafou


Benson, LeGrace, Journal of Haitian Studies


Living at the Crossroads: Three Exhibitions Vodou, a Way of Life, exhibition catalogue for Le Vodou, un art de vivre, Hainard, Jacques and Philippe Mathez. Geneva, Switzerland: Musée d'Ethnographie de Génèvre, 2007. ISBN 978-2-88474-232-0. 175 pp. $41 - $116.00 paperback.

Caribbean: Art at the Crossroads of the World, exhibition catalogue for Caribbean; Crossroads of the World, El Museo del Barrio, Harlem Studio Museum, Queens Museum. New York: El Museo del Barrio and Yale University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-300-17854-8. 491 pp. $65.00 paperback.

Kafou, exhibition catalogue for Kafou, Nottingham Contemporary. Nottingham, England: Nottingham Contemporary Art Center, 2012. ISBN 978-1-907421-05-1. 247 pp. £25.00.

Since the Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou exhibitions and comprehensive catalogue of 1998-1999, neither Haitian art nor the wider category of Caribbean art has had such a simultaneous international presence in the art space as they had in 2011 and 2012. Three substantial presentations in Europe and the United State attracted large numbers of viewers. Vodou, Un Art de Vivre in Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany and Canada; Caribbean: Crossroads of the World in New York; and Kafou at Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, England each produced catalogue guides of permanent cultural merit.

Vodou, un art de vivre featured Madame Marianne Lehmann's collection of Bizango and Vodou art: La Fondation pour la Préservation, la Valorisation et la Production d'OEuvres Culturelles Haïtiens (FPVOCH). The exhibition was at the Musée d'Ethnographie de Genève from December 2007 to August 2008; Amsterdam's Tropenmuseum 2008-2009; the Berlin Ethnologischishes Museum 209-2010; the Bremen Übersee Museum in 2011; finally in Musée Canadien des Civilisations in Gatineau, Québec, from November 2012 to February of 2013.

The catalogue includes texts by Jacques Hainard, Philippe Mathez, Arnaud Robert, Oliver Schinz, and Gamila Walter; interviews with Marianne Lehmann and Max Beauvoir; an essay on the Vodou-Makaya tradition by Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique, and instructive excerpts from the writings of Beauvoir-Dominique, Elizabeth McAlister, and Patrick Polk. It highlights the importance of crossroads, presenting them as the transcendent geography of life and death. Several of the clay sculptures are of theriomorphic creatures existing as species at the crossroads of human and animal, incorporating an imaginaire of the genetic power of both.

The Lehmann collection notably includes art generated in secret societies such as Bizango. Secret societies and Vodou should be distinguished from one another; but many Haitians participate in both. They share many beliefs and practices, and have a common source in Haiti's slavery and liberation history. Paralleling bellicose Vodou Petwo rites, forged in anguished resistance to colonial slave economy, arts produced in the secret milieu tend to be aggressive, even brutal, proclaiming a spirit of vigorous combat for self- and community preservation. Swaths of black, red and shades of grey dominate this collection and the catalogue, relieved by light scintillating out of darkness from mirrors and glittering ritual banners. The banners are gorgeous reminders of the fighting military heritage, as Patrick Polk has shown in Haitian Vodou Flags.

Superbly photographed by Johnathan Watts, the more than 100 catalogue illustrations evoke a sense that the statues, assemblages, ceramic, wooden or metal objects and flags are an army of occupation. Safely on the page, their palpability nevertheless emanates power from their dark but optimistic presence. Overall the anthropomorphic and theriomorphic constructions especially are unsettling chimera. Danger is a resident force in the objects, fully capable of being unleashed if called upon. Not readily visible in the illustrations are table and chair legs fashioned from femurs and tibias. These appear also in Atis Rezistans works included in the Kafou exhibition. …

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