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“Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou” at Nottingham Contemporary

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My exhibition notes, videos and photos - with kind permission of Nottingham Contemporary

Haitian Voduo (Voodoo) art at Nottingham Contemporary continues to 6th January


Lots of information panels in the galleries

Room 1 History

Includes an introductory documentary film from 1960 about the Haitian Art Centre or Centre d'Art that was established in 1944 with backing from some Americans who went Haiti to teach English.

The main subjects were carnival, cemetery, lots of symbols, vodou priests and deities called "Papa..." so-and-so, often the god of war celebrating slaves revolt & freedom, paintings and cut out steel sculptures, including one painting that was bought by Surrealist leader Andre Breton in 1945/46 in Bretons search for authenticity

An artist on the beach drawing a scene where a sea god frightens people off the beach

Carnival scenes of costumes and dancing, some very colourful and looking quite modern, others decorative with tropical flower borders


Gallery 2 - portraits & voodoo beaded & sequined flags

Films of voodoo ritual ceremonies, drumming, ecstatic possessed dancing and sacrificing chickens with lots of very African sounding singing by surrealist film maker Maya Deren, "Diving Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti" 1951


Paintings of totem like figures and portraits, some reminding me of medieval church paintings


Then we move to 1970's with some painters looking more sophisticated, or at least more Western

Especially struck by a set of paintings by Célestine Faustin from the late '70s - almost sci-fi dreamscapes with well modeled figures

Sculptures made from plastic dolls and shiny bits made to attract the gods into their temples


Gallery 3

The Saint-Soleil movement of peasant & poor urban painters, some almost abstract or like Arte Brut or today's Chris Offili - Clermont Julien and Prosper Pierre-Louis from the late 1980's & 90's


Gallery 4

Is devoted to the Atis Rezistans or resistance art movement with subjects such as the fall of dictator "Baby Doc" Jean-Claude Duvalier.


Incredibly detailed paintings with intricate drawn patterns of Frantz Zéphirin - an amazing history painting of The Slave Ship The Brookes, 2007, with rebellious slaves chained to the side of the ship for the sharks to eat, a European crew of animals, and written on the sail of the sea gods ship in the background "we are in a lot of trouble", with hope offered by two chained slaves who break free, signifying two leaders of the Haitian Revolution.


Edouard Duval-Carrié "Le Grand Bwa d'Ileh (Yes King)" 1994 a political satire depicts Baby Doc in a dress, as he was reputed to be homosexual, with the voodoo lord of death Bawon Samedi and family member and general Archbishop Francois-Wolf Ligonde.


The best and most striking work for me are the hatted sculptures made of recycled tyres, carved wooden heads and computer bits of metal, unified by a light golden ochre dust by Jean Hérard Celeur titled "Societe (Vodou Congregation)" and larger similar figures with children, all 2010 - really strong presence of expressionist saintly gargoyles mixed with German religious wood carvings


I spoke to a couple of friends who I met there with their very small children, both liked the show - one said she liked it because it was colourful and interesting even if you dont know about art. And a gallery assistant told me this was his favourite Nottingham Contemporary show because its like a community art project from hell!

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I like the museum style presentation that Nottingham Contemporary does with quite a lot of its shows, in this case it's almost like an anthropological study, and it's interesting seeing director Alex Farquarson able to indulge his very individual curatorial passions apparently he owns a couple of the paintings in the show.


Looking forward to Tracey Kelly "From Where I Stand I Can See You" with Rita Marhaug (Norway) showing at NTU Bonington Gallery from 7 January - 8 February

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