Fourteen beach-towel-sized flags covered in glittering sequins to evoke the Haitian Vodou spirits called “lwa” – each flag an explosion of color and light – hang in the Great Hall at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
The exhibit of flags designed and created by Louisiana artist Tina Girouard and sequin artists in Haiti runs through June 16. It was timed to start during the season leading up to Mardi Gras to highlight New Orleans’ ties to Haiti.
“When you walk in the Great Hall you see all the color, the vibrance, the beadwork. Many people, when they see it instantly make a connection to the Mardi Gras Indians” and the beaded panels in their bright costumes, said Nicolas Brierre Aziz, co-curator of the exhibition.
About 12,000 white planters, former slaves and free people of color came to New Orleans during and after Haiti’s 12-year revolution, which began in 1791, Aziz said.
They doubled the city’s population, and their influences include Creole cottages and cuisine, and New Orleans second-line parades, in which large groups of singing, dancing onlookers follow musicians and other members of a core parade group.
One flag, for Simbi, the spirit of things that flow, shows a series of waterfalls leading from mountains into a fish-filled sea where a sailboat labeled “Haiti” floats. Another, for Ougu, the warrior, shows red, orange and magenta flames around two hands that hold a crossed machete and rifle.
“This is amazing,” Margot Wittig, of Starnberg, Germany, said as she leaned in for a closer look at a flag representing brothers Sobo – thunder and lightning – and Bade, the wind.
Aziz said some artists and critics accuse Girouard of cultural appropriation because she is white. But he disputes that.
“When you’re looking at cultural appropriation you have to look at intent,” he said. “I don’t see this in this woman; I don’t see this in this story. This is somebody who lived in Haiti and immersed herself in the culture.” Continue reading