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Kafou, Haiti, Art and Vodou. Gallery 4. Photo Andy Keate

Kafou, Haiti, Art and Vodou. Gallery 4. Photo Andy Keate

Kafou, Haiti, Art and Vodou. Gallery 3. Photo Andy Keate

Kafou, Haiti, Art and Vodou. Gallery 3. Photo Andy Keate

Kafou, Haiti, Art and Vodou. Gallery 1. Photo David Sillitoe

Kafou, Haiti, Art and Vodou. Gallery 1. Photo David Sillitoe

Kafou, Haiti, Art and Vodou. Gallery 2. Photo Andy Keate

Kafou, Haiti, Art and Vodou. Gallery 2. Photo Andy Keate

Kafou, Haiti, Art and Vodou. Gallery 3. Photo Andy Keate

Kafou, Haiti, Art and Vodou. Gallery 3. Photo Andy Keate

Art - Exhibitions

Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou

20 Oct 2012 - 06 Jan 2013

We presented a major exhibition of Haitian art, the UK’s first for many years. Nearly 200 paintings, sculptures and sequin flags by 35 artists from the 1940s to the present day trace the representation of Vodou, reflecting Haiti’s historical experience through the supernatural.

Haiti is especially known for the art of its urban and rural poor. The label “naive” has often been applied to it, but doesn’t do it justice. The imaginative power and visual intricacy of these artworks reflect the richness of Haitian history and culture. They are in sharp contrast to the country’s familiar reputation for extreme poverty, natural disaster and political violence.

Haitian art is often at its most extraordinary when inspired by Vodou – a spiritual belief system followed by an estimated 90% of Haitians. With its roots in West African religions, Vodou includes aspects of Catholicism (most of Vodou gods are linked to Catholic saints), Islam, European folklore and freemasonry, as well as the religion of the island’s Taino people, who were almost wiped out by the first Spanish settlers. This fusion reflects the history of a small nation at the centre of the Atlantic World.

Links to selected reviews and press coverage

Kafou: Haiti, art and vodou in pictures, The Guardian, 19 October

UK puts Haitian art in the picture with major exhibition, Mark Brown, The Guardian, 21 October

Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou, Jackie Wullschlager, FT, 21 October

Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou, Zoe Pilger, The Independent, 22 October

There is no good or evil in Voodoo, Mark Hudson, The Telegraph, 27 October

Vodou’s host of spirits who interact with everyday life inform much of Haiti’s culture. The exhibition’s title, Kafou, means “crossroads” in the Haitian Creole language. Crossroads have great significance for Vodou, since they are the place where the world of the living and the world of the spirits meet. Kafou is himself one of the lwas, as the Vodou spirits are called.

Vodou is never simply escapist. Its gods came into being in Saint-Dominque, as Haiti was known under French rule, during slavery. Saint-Dominque was France’s richest colony. Its wealth was the consequence of a massive and brutal slave system – there were half a million slaves in Haiti by the late 18th century. Some of the Vodou lwa are connected to Haiti’s extraordinary revolution of 1791-1804, when slaves and former slaves eventually defeated the world’s most powerful army, led by Napoleon Bonaparte. This event sent shock waves around the world and inspired anti-colonial liberation struggles over the next two centuries. After the revolution Haiti was economically and politically isolated by the Western powers, which feared the spread of slave revolt. Its complex religion was misportrayed as black magic – propaganda that has influenced perceptions of Haiti to this day.

Haiti’s extraordinary history is evoked in its extraordinary art, often through Vodou symbolism. Vodou remains a powerful imaginative resource for art that continues to reflect on more recent events, as well as its history. Although the terrifying Duvalier regime fell in 1986, Haiti continues to suffer from gross economic injustice – the richest 1% of the population own half the nation’s wealth. The country is also still suffering the consequences of the catastrophic earthquake of 2010.

Many of Haiti’s most celebrated artists over successive generations are well represented in the exhibition. They include Hector Hyppolite, Philomé Obin, Rigaud Benoit, Préfète Duffaut, Jacques-Enguerrand
Gourgue, André Pierre, Georges Liautaud, Célestin Faustin, Prosper Pierre-Louis, Antoine Oleyant, Frantz Zéphirin, Atis Rezistans and Edouard Duval-Carrié, all of whom developed distinct visual languages
to represent the gods, rituals and atmosphere of Vodou.

Surrealists including André Breton, Maya Deren and Wilfredo Lam were particularly drawn to Vodou in Haitian art – the dream worlds of Surrealism and Vodou appear similar. However Surrealism relates to an individual’s unconscious and Vodou to the shared consciousness of a people. It has been said by the writer Réne Depestre that “the whole of Haitian culture is imbued with a popular surrealism, manifested in the Vodou religion, in the plastic arts and in the different forms of being among the People of Haiti. In Haiti even the political history is marked by Surrealism.” It is this collective aspect of Vodou that gives Haitian culture its inspirational social significance, in the face of severe hardship and injustice, past and present.

Kafou is curated by Alex Farquharson and Leah Gordon.

There are free Spot Talks focusing on artworks in the Haiti exhibition every Tue 3pm, Wed 5.30pm, Thu 1pm and Fri 11am. Just ask at Reception to join us.





Added Saturday, 01 December, 2012
Please e-mail me re the catalogue. I desire it! Richard Plummer Head of Art Tiffin Grammar School Kingston, Surrey
Richard Plummer
Added Friday, 12 October, 2012
This looks like a brilliant show, wish i could see it. Could you let me know when the catalogue arrives i would like to order one. Thanks A. Mary Kay
A.Mary Kay
Added Thursday, 11 October, 2012
Please notify me when the catalogue is available. Will there be a transcript ore recording available of the conference 1804 & Its Afterlives? Many thanks.
Joanne Cubbs
Added Sunday, 23 September, 2012
Is there a catalog?
Added Monday, 01 October, 2012
There will be a catalogue, we will let you know when it arrives. Best wishes
Added Friday, 06 July, 2012
What date is the teacher training evening for Haiti?
Diana Schwanz
Added Monday, 09 July, 2012
The dates are Tuesday 30 October & Wednesday 7 November, 5 - 7pm. Information about all the teacher training evenings can be found in our schools leaflet, available to download at the bottom of the Schools & Colleges page:
Added Tuesday, 03 July, 2012
Please could I have more information on this , as I am a teacher of Art and Design, considering bringing a yr 9 group to the exhibition in November and would like to plan a scheme of work around it. Thankyou
Anne Standing
Added Monday, 09 July, 2012
Download our new schools brochure and find out more about our Haiti exhibition 'Kafou' and our future programme: For further information, please contact Helen on 0115 948 9782

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