contemporary art, folk art, sculpture, vodou

Leah Gordon, Atis Rezistans: The Sculptors of Grand Rue (2012)

October 30, 2012

Just as Joseph Beuys once declared his reciprocal love for America, in this film you will see a Haitian artist state: “I like vodou and vodou likes me.” He goes so far as to add, “Everyone likes vodou.”

But whatever ghetto sculptor Guyodo might think or say, not everyone does like vodou. Not unless you count the prevalent mania for zombie fancy dress as a deep engagement with this religion.

Guyodo was talking about his neighbourhood, however, where spirits are as popular as art and art is a way of keeping the spirits close. Missing a loved one already? Just put their skull on an effigy.

On press day for a show of Haitian art at Nottingham Contemporary, filmmaker and photographer Leah Gordon was introduced as one of the West’s most frequent visitors to Haiti.

Indeed, she has a freaky level of access. One sequence of her film takes us down a warren of sunless alleys into the heart of a notorious Port-au-Prince ghetto, in search of mysteries and faith.

But the residents of these corrugated steel shacks will surprise you. Artist Andre Eugene tells Gordon there are as many great intellectuals here as there are thieves.

Eugene also has plans to open a museum. Not a gallery, but a full blown museum because up until now it has only been the bourgeoisie who embarked upon such ventures.

The film is not without its spookier moments. In a memorable scene we see a man channel the spirit Gede. He wears shades with the apt number of lenses and props a phallus on his walking stick.

And in some more great footage, towards the end, we witness a jazz funeral. What a way to go! In voiceover the irrepressible Guyodo talks up the immortality of artists, regardless of earthly fame.

If this film has whet your appetite for the art of Grand Rue, try and make it to what must be one of the largest exhibitions of Haitian art ever. Or wait for the catalogue and be there in spirit.

Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou is at Nottingham Contemporary until 6 January. See gallery website for more details.

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