Pat Robertson can suck it.
Last week's earthquake in Haiti is a tragedy on many, many different levels. The loss of life, livelihoods and homes are staggering. I've never been to Haiti myself, but all of my friends who have visited there came back with fantastic stories about the people they met. My friend Todd even flew a Vodou priest to Omaha to perform his marriage ceremony. Haiti has a rich history of art that is inextricably linked with religion, culture and geography.
My favorite form of Haitian art is the Vodou Flag. These intricately beaded and sequined banners have traditionally been used in religious rituals. The flags are placed atop poles and carried through the Vodou temple, accompanied by drums and dancing. Of course the Vodou banners have been commercialized and turned into secular souvenirs, but they are still produced for use as well.
The beauty of the banners makes the authenticity debate almost moot. To see a Vodou flag in person is to experience a little window into Haitian culture. The flags are full of symbols, including representations of priests, implements of worship and plenty of syncretic images that work for both Voudou and Catholicism, the two main religions practiced (often at the same time) on the island.
The flags also portray the pantheon of Vodou gods and goddesses. The above image is a flag representing The Grand Bois, who is a spirit commonly associated with nature. His counterpart in the Catholic world is Saint Sebastian. Offerings to the Grand Bois often include honey and spiced rum.
This image is of Silva Joseph (creator of the Grand Bois banner above), a Vodou priest and master flag maker. Many of the established masters live in Port-au-Prince, where the earthquake struck. Like all details from the earthquake, the whereabouts of various Vodou craftspeople are hard to come by. The Haitian art blog Haitianna has offered up a few updates about artists the blogger knows personally.
A longer article about Vodou flags can be found at Candice Russell's Haitianna. Vodou flags also featured prominently in UCLA's recent touring exhibition Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou. The Vodou exhibition (and its accompanying website) delves into history and ritual, using objects like Vodou flags to illustrate Haiti's links with Africa and France.
Port-au-Prince's Iron Market is where the raw materials for the flags can be found. A Vodou flag master/priest usually sketches a design onto fabric, then stretches the fabric onto a frame before beginning the weeks-long process of adding the sequins one-by-one. Each banner is embellished to the point where the senses of the viewer are overloaded. Even a small Vodou banner is entrancing--viewing an entire collection of them is overwhelming.
You can find plenty of Vodou flags on the web. I bought an entry-level flag with a mermaid on it for Claire a few years ago, and I think about Haiti every time I walk past it. The best way to purchase a Vodou flag, of course, would be directly from its maker in Haiti. My thoughts are going out to the artists of Port-au-Prince. In addition to Vodou flags, Haiti is home to many accomplished painters, and increasingly, talented sculptors that transform scavenged metal and garbage into brilliant art.
You can, of course, send aid to Haiti many different ways. I especially recommend sending donations to Doctors Without Borders. Thanks go out to Indigo Arts for most of the images I used on this post.