Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou

Hector Hyppolite, Henri Christophe

Hector Hyppolite, Henri Christophe

As fate would have it I ended up sat next to Leah Gordon on the train to ‘1804 and its Afterlives’.  The conference which took place last weekend at Nottingham Contemporary was organised to speak to the cultural production and political thought resulting from the Haitian Revolution which itself gave rise to the syncretic religion of Vodou as a shared resource not just among its practitioners but within Haitian culture at large. The invisible powers of Vodou imagery are visibly present in the artworks, currently on show at the ‘Kafou’ exhibition at Nottingham contemporary, which include those by artist-vodouisants as well as those who profess not to practice the religion.  This is the largest exhibition of Haitian Vodou inspired artwork ever to be shown in the UK. Curated by Leah Gordon and Alex Farquharson, it narrates ‘popular’ (in the French sense of the word) art movements chronologically (yet also transversally via the liquid temporality of such films as the wonderful ‘Dreamers’ by Jorgen Leths) from the early Centre d’art artists – Hector Hyppolite, Georges Liautaud, Philomé and Sénèque Obin – via the characters of the Sans Soleil movement – Prosper Pierre-Louis, Louisane Saint-Fleurant – up to and including the Grand Rue Atis Rezistans group, who I had the chance to work with at last year’s Ghetto Biennale.

One of the very first books I read on Haiti was Joan Dayan’s Haiti, History and the Gods. Now better known as Colin Dayan, she gave this fascinating – and so very rich that I am very grateful to NC for recording it – keynote entitled: ‘The gods in the trunk (or writing in a belittered world)’, which highlights the renewed threats to Vodou and what she refers to as its ‘radical materiality’, whilst merging dichotomies of human and non-human, mind and body in the current political context of Haiti. The importance of the interstitial is foregrounded by Dayan as Vodou is forced more than ever to resist, its fragments emerging somewhere ‘between squalor and splendour’.

Skip to 14.00 in for the start of Colin’s presentation.

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