Folk Art: Myrlande Constant

Haitian Hero Toussaint Louverteur

This afternoon, I once again took a walk on the UCLA campus and visited the Fowler Museum. There were two new exhibits that fascinated me, particularly the work of Myrlande Constant of Haiti. It was a strangely satisfying mix of Hieronymus Bosch and Haitian vodou (aka voodoo). On her website, the artist talks about the influence of vodou flags on her work:

Within the vodou community the flag is a sacred ritual object that identifies the hounfour and honors the spirits with whom it is associated. The sparkle of the sequin or mirror used to capture the attention of the iwa started in the temples. Drapo voudou (sequined sacred flags) are unfurled at the beginning of a ceremony. They are power points that are used for both identification and transformation. When the flag is unfurled it signals the congregants to come to order -the sacred is about to come home to roost. The spirits will soon walk next to (or in) the market woman.

As I looked around the exhibit, I found myself drawn to details rather than to the overall design, which in any case I could ill understand as I am not a practitioner of vodou. Here are a couple of examples:

Like all the works on display, the art was covered with sequins, beads, and other shiny objects. The result was that I found myself immersed in detail. Is that Baron Samedi or Papa Legba on horseback? I don’t know, now why that woman at the lower left is exposing her buttocks.

Making frequent appearances were Catholic saints and angels, though in the world of vodou, everything has a different meaning.

Sometimes, it is useful to immerse oneself in a culture one doesn’t understand. The mysteries have a role to play in our lives—a role which, I believe, is ultimately benign.

Not the Worst of Men

Hugo Chavez, the late President of Venezuela

Hugo Chavez, the late President of Venezuela

Not all dictators are uniformly bad. Okay, there were Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao—not to mention the horrendous Kim dynasty of North Korea. But think for a second: Would the world be in this ISIS/ISIL/Daesh mess if Saddam Hussein were still alive? We hanged him for being a bad dude, but worse dudes were to follow.

If there is any country in the Western Hemisphere that is an abysmal basket case, that country would be Haiti. After the 2010 earthquake that leveled half the country, all the NGOs moved in with their shiny SUVs and their air of moral superiority. One country, however, donated money to Haiti—admittedly much of which went into the wrong hands—but the recipients did not have to grovel for it. That was Venezuela, which at the time was basking in oil wealth. Through its Petrocaribe alliance with several other states, Hugo Chavez gave millions to the devastated country.

Now Venezuela is in dire straits and Hugo Chavez is dead of cancer. As much as his regime bad-mouthed the U.S., I salute Chavez for having a heart that was often in the right place.