Exhibitions

Saluting Vodou Spirits: Haitian Flags from the Fowler Collection

August 8, 2004 to December 12, 2004

Religion and politics mingle freely in Haitian ritual flags, a fabulous array of which hang at the Fowler Museum.”
Los Angeles Times, August 2004

“A glorious celebration of these richly textured drapos.”
LA City Beat, September 2, 2004

This exhibition featured the lavishly decorated ritual flags (drapo) that have become the most celebrated genre of Vodou sacred art. Made of satin, velvet, or rayon, and adorned with sequins, beads, or appliqué, these flags are presented at the beginning of Vodou ceremonies to salute the spirits and to marshal the energies of their devotees. Saluting Vodou Spirits featured more than thirty of these dazzling works dating from the early 1900s to the 1990s as well as five newly commissioned beaded flags by women artists, who have only recently begun to work in this medium.

Exhibition in Depth

Vodou, the most common religion in Haiti and a way of life for the vast majority of Haitians, is rooted in African religious belief systems, with borrowings from Roman Catholicism, Freemasonry, and Haiti’s native Taino culture. Haitians create elaborate ceremonial art to honor and serve the Vodou spirits. The most celebrated genre of Vodou sacred art is the lavishly decorated ritual flags called drapo, and approximately forty of these flags were on display in this exhibition.

Made of satin, velvet, or rayon, and adorned with sequins, beads, or appliqué, these flags are presented at the beginning of Vodou ceremonies to salute the spirits and to marshal the energies of their devotees. Saluting Vodou Spirits features highlights from the Fowler’s collection of more than 120 drapo, and includes dazzling works dating from the early 1900s to the 1990s as well as five newly commissioned beaded flags by women artists, who have only recently begun to work in this medium.

Each drapo is typically dedicated to a single spirit (lwa), incorporating sacred colors and symbols specific to that spirit. The designs reflect Vodou’s intense process of cultural synthesis, wherein African symbols are juxtaposed and merged with sources as diverse as Catholic processional banners, French military ensigns, and Masonic flags and aprons. Often the flags measure approximately 3’ x 3’, feature a geometric-design border, and are fringed. The flags chosen for this exhibition salute the spirits most closely associated in myth and legend with the events of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804): Ogou, general of the Vodou pantheon, the snake patriarch Danbala, and Ezili Danto, celestial earth mother and divine warrior.

Exhibition Credits

This exhibition was curated by Donald J. Cosentino, a scholar of Haitian art and professor in UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures.

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