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Field Museum’s “Vodou – Sacred Powers of Haiti” Review – Spirituality Steeped in Struggles Against Racism

By Amy Munice

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With religious holidays of the season mingling with protests about Ferguson and the like, there is yet another level of resonance to the Field Museum’s “Vodou  - Sacred Powers of Haiti” exhibit running now through April 26, 2015. 

 

 

Some may remember the very popular Field Museum exhibit in 1997 about Haiti and Vodou.  In terms of scale, think of that as a morsel appetizer and this one as the full banquet.

 

 

In this exhibit we learn that Vodou (pronounced vah-DOO) is a spiritual tradition steeped in resistance and triumph over slavery and racism.   It has been driven underground in various times and places precisely because of the spirit of rebellion at its core that often threatened the powers that be.

 

Out to debunk misinformed stereotypes – e.g. pins in dolls, resurrection of the dead as zombies, New Orleans origins, and more—the exhibit makes ample use of videos and narrations by living practitioners of Vodou to explain the role of drums, altars, lwa (pronounced luh-WAH, large scale representations of spirits) and many other objects and rituals that comprise the Vodou practice. 

 

 

Walking into the large two halls of the exhibit, it is the dazzling array of objects that immediately grab you and fascinate.  From sequined flags and bottles, to life-size sculptures of warriors (flighting lwa), to smaller sculptures, urns and other objects (more than 300 en toto), we get a glimpse of an African born aesthetic embellished upon and transformed on Haiti’s soil through the centuries. 

 

 

As you watch the Vodou priests and priestesses talk about their deeply spiritual beliefs and watch videos of ritual practices you may come to see Vodou as akin to your spiritual beliefs or something far afield.  The organizers of this exhibit want you to ponder that question deeply. 

 

 

For example, we hear priestesses explaining the Vodou tenet that death is not final but rather a move to another realm and upon reflection it does not sound very different from the beliefs of very mainstream religions in the US. 

 

 

The exhibit also reminds us that the first non-Native American settler in Chicago was Haitian—Jean-Baptiste Point Du Sable.  Knowing that there are an estimated 30,000 Haitians living in Chicago today, it’s likely that Vodou ceremonies are alive here in Chicago as well, if below the radar. That said, it’s unlikely that a Vodou lwa will be added to Daley Center’s Xmas Tree and Menorah exhibit any time soon.  The Field’s exhibit is your chance to peek into the deeply sacred Vodou tradition and reflect back on how it does or doesn’t mirror your core spiritual beliefs.

 

Now through April 26, 2015.

 

Field Museum

1400 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

 

Open daily (except Christmas Day) from 9 AM – 5 PM, last admission at 4 PM.

 

For information call 312 922 9410 or visit the Field Museum website

 

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Photos:  Peter Kachergis unless otherwise indicated

 

Published on Dec 21, 2014

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