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Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti

16 Jun, 2012 at 12:00 am - 11 Aug, 2012 at 12:00 am

A photograph by Leah Gordon depicting three men with their shirts off wearing black cloth masks with horns attached to them which cover their whole face.

Leah Gordon’s practice explores the representational boundaries between art, religion, anthropology, colonialism and folk history. The photographs in this exhibition document the pre-Lenten Mardi Gras Festivities in Jacmel, a coastal town in Southern Haiti. Her photographs register Haiti’s juncture between its history, its cosmology and the present.

Gordon’s images document troupes of ‘performers’ acting out mythological and political tales in a whorish theatre of the absurd that course the streets unshackled by traditional parade. Light years away from the sanitized corporate-sponsored tourist parades of carnival throughout the world, the images reveal an event that is a potent vessel for transmitting, telling, retelling and reinterpreting Haitian history.

Leah Gordon has been recording the masks of Jacmel’s carnival for the last sixteen years. In calmer, more tranquil times she has met with the carnival performers and collected the stories behind the masks – stories of complex Vodou rituals, ancestral memories, political satire and personal revelations.

The photographs will be accompanied by recordings of readings of the oral histories presented in the voice of NAE’s immediate community. Furthering these cultural links and creating a crossover between Haitian Art and British Contemporary Art, the Kanaval images will be juxtaposed against a special commission by Haitian Artist, Andre Eugene, who will be utilizing Jeremy Deller’s 2005 ‘Folk Archive’ commission. Eugene will create an ad hoc Vodou altar from a selection of the 280 artefacts held in the Folk Archive that will represent a snap-shot of contemporary folk art in the UK, and create a cultural continuum between British and Haitian folk traditions.

Kanaval features as part of Night of Festivals 2012, produced by ArtReach, and anticipates the exhibition ‘Kafou: Haiti, its Art and Vodou’ at Nottingham Contemporary, 20 October 2012 – 6 January 2013.