Fourteen beach towel flags covered with shimmering sequins to invoke the Haitian Vodou spirits called "wa" – each flag an explosion of color and light – hang in the Great Hall at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
The exhibition with flags, designed and made by Louisiana artist Tina Girouard (zher-AHRD) and sequinists in Haiti, runs until 16 June. It was time to start during the season prior to Mardi Gras to emphasize the ties of New Orleans with Haiti.
"When you walk through the Great Hall, you see all the colors, the liveliness, the beadwork, and many people, when they see it, connect directly to the Mardi Gras Indians" and the beaded panels in their bright costumes, says Nicolas Brierre Aziz, co-curator of the exhibition.
About 12,000 white planters, former slaves and free people of color came to New Orleans during and after the 12-year revolution of Haiti, which began in 1791, Aziz said.
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They doubled the population of the city and their influences included Creole houses and dishes, and two-door parades in New Orleans, in which large groups of singing, dancing spectators, musicians and other members of a core para group follow.
One flag, for Simbi, the spirit of things that flow, shows a series of waterfalls leading from mountains to a sea filled with fish, where a sailboat with the label "Haiti" floats. Another, for Ougu, the warrior, shows red, orange and magenta flames around two hands with a crossed machete and rifle.
"This is amazing," said Margot Wittig, from Starnberg, as she leaned in to see a flag of brothers Sobo – thunder and lightning – better, and Bade, the wind.
Aziz said that some artists and critics accuse Girouard of cultural appropriation because she is white. But he disputes that.
"If you look at cultural appropriation you have to look at intention," he said. "I do not see this in this woman, I do not see this in this story, this is someone who lived in Haiti and immersed herself in the culture."
The sequin cover makes the flags so heavy that they have to be hung on metal bars.
The flags of Girouard are more than double the size of the flags that were used to call l during ceremonies, and much heavier sequins. In "Sequin Artists of Haiti", published in 1994, Girouard wrote that ceremonial flags are smaller and less thick than those that Haitian artists and studios offer for sale as art.
"A solid background with sequins ensures that the flag stiffens, is unable to drape the staff or swings with the dancer during rituals," she wrote.
The exhibition was made by curator Katie Pfohl, who said she was familiar with Girouard's work at the graduate school, but had not fully understood her Louisiana background and connections.
Pfohl said that she had been on and off since moving to Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but did not know in what form her flags were. Then a niece went downstairs to help care for Girouard and he organized an exhibition of Girouard's work, including flags, at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, where the De Quincy-born artist at the university had graduated.
Pfohl said that the size and number of the flags made them great candidates for the two-story Great Hall.
"The exhibition is fantastic, great," said Sallie Ann Glassman, a friend of Girouard and a mambo, a priestess of the Vodou religion. "There is great complexity for very striking images and a good understanding of the Vodoun world view – that there is an invisible world in the visible world and that these worlds interact with each other in ways that seem magical."