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The William R. and Clarice V. Spurlock Museum at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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Sacred Symbols in Sequins

April 5 - Earth Beat: The Quest for Creativity

Posted: April 8, 2014

Flag representing the Iwa (spirits) Damballah and his wife Aida Wedo.
This flag represents the Iwa (spirits) Damballah and his wife Aida Wedo, who are nearly always depicted as snakes. Image courtesy of ExhibitsUSA.

On April 6, the Museum opened the traveling exhibit Sacred Symbols in Sequins: Vintage Haitian Vodou Flags. The exhibit offers a unique opportunity for the Champaign-Urbana and campus communities to understand the Vodou religion through these hand-made, elaborately adorned liturgical artifacts. As described by its distributor, ExhibitsUSA, the flags “are magnificent works of art that offer compelling stories about the relationships between cultures”:

For many Americans, the term Vodou brings up unfortunate, Hollywood-inspired imagery involving hexes and curses, but visitors to Sacred Symbols in Sequins will gain new insights to the beauty and sanctity of Haitian Vodou… For generations, skilled Haitian flag makers have formed remarkable mosaics of religious imagery by combining and juxtaposing symbols of Europe and the Americas with those brought from Africa centuries ago by captive slaves. Vodou societies (sosyete) generally possess at least two flags that represent both their congregation and the deities they worship. These flags are among the most sacred and expensive of ritual implements.

The exhibit also highlights Vodou libation bottles and portraits of contemporary practitioners. The exhibit will be on display in the Campbell Gallery through August 10.

Tamboula in action.
Tamboula in action.

The opening celebration of Sacred Symbols in Sequins will take place on Thursday, April 10 and will feature a Haitian dance performance by Tamboula, a professional Afro-Haitian dance company based in Chicago. Founded in 2000, the company performs both traditional dances and those that add inspiration from other arts, such as jazz and ballet.

The Spurlock Museum’s changing exhibits and related cultural performances are supported through a gift from Allan C. and Marlene S. Campbell and the Illinois Arts Council Agency. The exhibit is a program of Exhibits USA, a national Division of Mid-America Arts Alliance and the National Endowment for the Arts.