"Vèvè in the Courtyard"
Guarding the Gates
Artist: Evens Florestal
The production of vèvè is a tradition of African origin. In Dahomey, an ancient kingdom in the region that is now southern Benin, palm oil was used to draw certain geometrical figures, such as rectangles and squares, on the ground. The practice of drawing ritual emblems on the ground is also attested in Central Africa, and the practice of producing vèvè in Haiti may owe its origin to a western African and Central African cultural convergence. Some scholars have also pointed to the existence of a similar practice among the Taino and Arawak peoples, with whom Africans came into contact in Haiti.
The references are from Wikipedia.org
Vèvè can be quite elaborate or simple. They are drawn on the earthen floor of the peristyle (temple), using cornmeal or ashes, and their realization, usually by an oungan (priest) or manbo (priestess), requires a great deal of expertise. Vèvè are central to Vodou rituals because they are meant to compel the descending or ascending of the spiritual energy associated with a particular lwa.
"Vèvè in the courtyard" seeks to shed light on the multifaceted aspects of Vodou and its central role in the cultural fabric of Haiti. The exhibition showcases a collection of mesmerizing paintings by renowned artist Evens Florestal, who skillfully weaves together his artistic prowess, profound understanding of Vodou, and personal experiences as a Haitian immigrant living in New York.
As visitors step into the exhibition space, they are immediately transported into a realm where vibrant colors, intricate patterns, and spiritual symbolism come alive. The gates are adorned with large-scale paintings, each meticulously crafted to capture the essence of specific veves. Florestal's mastery of brushwork and attention to detail allow the veves to exude energy and invoke a sense of connection with the divine.
Papa Legba is a lwa in Haitian Vodou, Winti and Louisiana Voodoo, who serves as the intermediary between God and humanity. He stands at a spiritual crossroads and gives (or denies) permission to speak with the spirits of Guineé, and is believed to speak all human languages.
In Haiti, he is the great elocutioner. Legba facilitates communication, speech, and understanding. He is commonly associated with dogs. Papa Legba is invoked at the beginning of every ceremony. Papa Legba has his origins in the historic West African kingdom of Dahomey, located within present-day Benin.
Sobo ak Bade
Sobo is a spirit or loa in Haitian Vodou. He is the loa of thunder and is always depicted and served with his inseparable companion/brother Bade, who is the loa of wind. Together they are represented by the Catholic image of Saints Cosmas and Damian. He is probably West African in origin and a flaming ram is his symbol
Tambou Ogou, Mouchwa Dambalah ak Ezuli
In Haitian Vodou Ogun is known as Ogou and consists of an array of manifestations; most carry the aspect of iron smithing and tools from the Yoruba tradition. The Ogou guard the badji, the sacred altar of the Vodou temple. He carries an iron saber and wears a red sash.
Ogou is also the god of pioneering, intelligence, justice, medicine, and political power; these are associated with the symbol of the tool that can "advance humans' mastery over the environment. Ogou Feray is the god of war. Other manifestations of Ogou are Ogou Badagri, Ogou Balenjo, Ogou Batala, and Ogou Je Wouj. Ezili Dantor is the female counterpart to Ogou
Each lwa has its own emblem, and vèvè are therefore numerous and varied. The central elements are a heart, for Èzili Freda, the lwa of femininity and love; two snakes, for the cosmic snakes Danbala Wèdo and his wife Ayida Wèdo; a boat, for Agwe, the lwa of the sea; a cutlass (sabre), for Ogou, the lwa of war; and a cross, for Papa Legba, the guardian of crossroads.
Vèvè are always traced near the potomitan, the central pillar of the peristyle, the magical axis through which the lwa are believed to come into the world of the living. In fact, vèvè are a material representation of the lwa and are considered magic points. It is for this reason that food offerings and animals sacrificed to a particular lwa are placed on the lwa’s vèvè. When a Vodou service is performed for the feeding of several lwa at the same time, the vèvè drawn will include the ritual emblems of all the lwa involved in the ritual.
As one might expect, the final vèvè may be quite complex and cover a large area of the peristyle. At the beginning of a Vodou ceremony, vèvè will be consecrated with the sprinkling of dried foodstuffs; a libation (offered three times) of rum, water, or some other appropriate drink; and the lighting of a white candle.
Damballa, also spelled Damballah, Dambala, Dambalah, among other variations (Haitian Creole: Danbala), is one of the most important of all loa, spirits in Haitian Voodoo and other African diaspora religious traditions such as Obeah. He is traditionally portrayed as a great white or black serpent, originating in the city of Wedo (Whydah or Ouidah) in modern-day Benin. Damballa is said to be the Sky Father and the primordial creator of all life, or the first thing created by Gran Met.
In others, being the first thing created by God, creation was undertaken through him. By shedding the serpent skin, Damballa created all the waters on the earth. As a serpent, he moves between land and water, generating life, and through the earth, uniting the land with the waters below.
Baron Samedi is usually depicted with a top hat, black tail coat, dark glasses, and cotton plugs in the nostrils, as if to resemble a corpse dressed and prepared for burial in the Haitian style. He is frequently depicted as a skeleton (but sometimes as a black man that merely has his face painted as a skull), and speaks in a nasal voice. The former President-for-Life of Haiti, François Duvalier, known as Papa Doc, modeled his cult of personality on Baron Samedi; he was often seen speaking in a deep nasal tone and wearing dark glasses
Ogou Feray is syncretized with St. James the Greater (St. Jacques Majeur) in the Vodou tradition. He is a flower spirit and he guides Vodou followers against their enemies. He is symbolically covered in iron and may not be harmed by his enemies. As in Africa, his symbol is a piece of iron, a machete, or a knife. As in Africa, Ogou is revered among blacksmiths, many of whom are of Yoruba origin. He is also noted to like women and alcohol.
In Vodou ceremonies followers of Ogou wear a red shirt, pants, and scarf. A follower of Ogou in a possession-trance is offered Haitian white rum during the ceremony. In some ceremonies rum is burned in a container to allow Ogou to "wash" the hands of the followers.
Evens Florestal, a gifted artist born on December 8, 1975, possesses a deep understanding of the arts, which is further enriched by his classical education. He honed his artistic skills through his studies at ENARTS, the prestigious National School of the Arts in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This rigorous training provided him with a solid foundation and a diverse set of techniques to explore and express his creative vision.
Florestal's artwork delves into profound themes of cultural identity, history, and societal questions, which hold great significance in his native land. Haiti, with its complex history and rich cultural heritage, serves as a constant source of inspiration for his artistic practice. His paintings serve as a visual commentary on the struggles, triumphs, and aspirations of the Haitian people, capturing the essence of their collective experiences.
Through his art, Florestal brings to the forefront issues such as social inequality, political turmoil, and the resilience of the Haitian people. His works serve as a medium for exploring the nuances of cultural identity, delving into the intricate tapestry of Haitian history, and examining the socio-political dynamics that shape the country's present and future.
In addition to his artistic pursuits, Florestal's intellectual curiosity led him to attend the College of Ethnology at the State University of Haiti. This academic endeavor expanded his understanding of cultural anthropology and further informed his artistic exploration of identity and societal issues.
Recently, Florestal made the significant decision to immigrate to New York with his family, seeking new artistic opportunities and avenues for growth. His move to this vibrant cultural hub has allowed him to immerse himself in a diverse artistic community, expand his artistic horizons, and continue his artistic training and education.
In conclusion, Evens Florestal, with his natural talents for the arts and solid classical education, showcases a profound understanding of cultural identity, history, and societal questions through his thought-provoking paintings. His works encapsulate the spirit and struggles of his native Haiti, while also reflecting his ongoing journey as an artist in his new home of New York.
With Qunyatta Warren, the Cultural Center Manager to oversee the “Re-Deployment of the Guards at the Gate”
The threshold between religion and art
The threshold between religion and art is a complex and multifaceted concept that has been debated by scholars and artists for centuries. At its core, this threshold is the boundary that separates religious practices and beliefs from artistic expression and creativity. However, the line between the two can often become blurred, with art often being used as a means of expressing religious beliefs and vice versa.
One way to understand the threshold between religion and art is to consider the different ways in which these two domains approach the concept of truth. While religion typically relies on divine revelation and faith as sources of truth, art tends to rely on human experience and creativity as sources of truth. This fundamental difference in approach can create tension between the two domains, as artists may challenge religious beliefs or religious leaders may criticize artistic expression that conflicts with their beliefs.
Another aspect of the threshold between religion and art is the use of symbolism and imagery. Religious art often uses symbols and images to convey theological concepts and to evoke emotions and spiritual experiences in the viewer. Similarly, secular art can use symbolism and imagery to explore philosophical and existential questions, or to provoke emotional responses in the viewer. However, the use of these symbols and images can also be a point of contention, with some religious groups objecting to the use of certain symbols or images that they deem inappropriate or sacrilegious.
The threshold between religion and art remains a complex and dynamic concept that is shaped by historical, cultural, and social factors. While the two domains can sometimes be in conflict, they can also complement each other, providing unique insights into the human experience and the search for meaning and purpose in life.