The art of homesickness in “Textiles of Exile”- feature on Haitian drapos

On Tuesday, January the 12th, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the town of Léogâne, Haiti. The catastrophe resulted in the deaths of over 316,000 people, and the further displacement of 1.5 million. While the world scrambled to come to its aid, widespread damage to the infrastructure, combined with shipping and air congestion, left thousands of Haitian residents without access to proper healthcare, sanitation, or electricity.

Inspired by their hardship and loss, Haitian artists banded together to create traditional Haitian artwork called “drapo,” a word derived from the French “drapeaux,” which means “flags.” These ceremonial flags are each worked out in beads, and the Gregg is currently honored to host two of them in its new Textiles of Exile exhibit.

The two drapos shown, Les Anges Secouristes du Seisme and Les Espirits du Secourisme, are featured next to the entrance of the Textiles of Exile gallery. The incredible detail and emotion of the pieces speaks of the sad and exquisite beauty of art born from tragedy, of the expression of pain and longing that defines this exhibit as a whole. These two pieces stand out both in their brilliance of color and their meticulous attention to hand-worked detail, picked out in individual beads of all colors and hues. Evelyne Alcide created the first, whose name, Les Anges Secouristes du Seisme, translates to “Earthquake Relief Angels.” It depicts Lwa, spirits of the Vodou religion, as angels floating above the wreckage. Alongside the angels, in the dark blue dress with white hair, is the Notre Dame du Perpetual Secours, or as others know her, the Virgin Mary. The name of the second, Les Espirits du Secourisme, as shown in the photo above, translates to “Rescue Spirits.” It depicts victims of the earthquake interacting with Catholic figures such as Saint Patrick and Saint James, and it shows examples both of people clinging to life and others departing to the spirit world.

Both of these pieces serve to set the mood for the entire gallery, instilling in onlookers the power behind the feeling of homesickness, and the heavy emotion guiding the artists of this exhibit. Even now, in 2012, Haiti is still suffering the aftereffects of the earthquake. Two years later and still half a million Haitians are still without homes, and, due to the destabilized government and local corruption, it is unlikely that relief for them will come anytime soon. Textiles of Exile is free and open to the public, and runs through May 12.

-Paige Goodwin, Gregg Museum Intern Spring 2012

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