SANDY RELIEF FOR HAITI
Voodoo Altars, Zombies, and Oil Cans
On View from November 8 through December 8, 2012 at Gallery 151. 132 West 18th Street, New York, NY 10011.
Gallery 151 is proud to announce a guest-curated exhibit by Keyes Art Projects, “Voodoo Altars, Zombies, and Oil Cans” part of Carnegie Hall’s Voices from Latin America Festival. The exhibition features a selection of art from the collection of Mary Jo McConnell and new photography from Jill Peters, the work represents two facets of the culture of Haiti with older works positing a supernatural vision and new photographs grounding the exhibition with the faces of Haitian refugees in Miami.
Given recent events, it is difficult to see these works without considering the tragedy and loss of life in Haiti these last weeks since Hurricane Sandy. The same themes of diaspora and displacement, of grotesque transformation and defiant subjecthood transform under this lens, and to interpret this assembly of works with the current social conditions of Haiti gives them new life and urgency. Gallery 151 will pledge 20% of any sale of works to disaster relief efforts abroad in Haiti as well as locally in New York City for the duration of the show.
Paintings and altarpieces from the collection of scholar and art historian Mary Jo McConnell offer narrative icons of Haiti – its voodoo, culture, and the artifacts it produced. Displayed here in New York City for the first time, graphic paintings combine vibrant color with the esoteric semiology of voodoo culture, warping and modifying figuration with cosmograms and contorted dance. Sculptures from repurposed, derelict oil cans echo a mediation between the earthly and supernatural. These therapeutic formulations from a culture born in diaspora reinterpret old tradition in the wake of increasing modernity. Seemingly grotesque, the ramshackle combinations and fusions that occur indicate a people in transition, and serve as document to the supernatural visions of an old Haiti.
In contrast, photographer Jill Peters captures images of Haitian refugees in Miami that ground the exhibition in the reality of Haitians today. The elderly women pictured emigrated from Haiti in the 1970s in the face of conflict. Peters writes “I was attracted to these matriarchs as rich visual subjects and I suspected that this was so because they had survived challenges that would surely be written into their faces.” The same faces that Peters figures as the documentation of conflict reveal an overwhelming depth of faith and abiding optimism, both trumping any trace of self-pity. The stark contrast between the black and white figures and their saturated backgrounds proposes a duality in their character and a flickering space that begs reconciliation between the past and present. Each strong gaze asserts a bold presence that remains otherwise unseen in the current view of Haiti. This is Haiti today, these women and their courage, asserting strength and stoicism while the chroma of their respective backgrounds threatens them with total consumption. Themes of diaspora, displacement, and memory surface in each image, echoing the friction of the paintings, sculptures, and altarpieces collected by McConnell.