Vodou and Visual Art Roundtable—Vodou: Cradle of Haiti’s Contemporary Art

In this roundtable led by Oungan (Vodou Priest) Jean-Daniel Lafontant, participants will contextualize the current exhibition PÒTOPRENS: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince by highlighting the interdependency between Vodou and the visual art of Haiti. The roundtable will elaborate on the ways in which the synergy between Vodou and Haitian contemporary art feeds the survival and dynamism of both, particularly in the urban Port-au-Prince area. Using photographs by Haitian photographer Moise Pierre, the discussion will highlight that the artwork and artifacts used for rituals, ceremonies, decoration are simultaneously works of artistic form and sacred objects representing Vodou spirits.

“Vodou has been the cradle of Haitian art and creativity. Most of these spiritual sites are traditionally a place of cultural learning, practice, development and exposure,” Lanfontant explains in this essay “In Vodou, Art is Divine.” “This is an environment where talents are discovered, nurtured and encouraged. A lakou, or peristil [temple], are places of complete expression. They are at the forefront of the new, at the crossroad of tradition and embrace or appropriate all individual form of expression. In Vodou, art is divine! As a rule, the art of Haiti, may it be called: contemporary, outsider, traditional, naïve or else, can’t be separated from Vodou and vice-versa.”

Jean-Daniel Lafontant is a Oungan (Vodou priest) and a founding member of Temple Na-Ri-VéH in Haiti. He is also the founder of ANAE (1987), a New York-based association specializing in the cultural promotion of Haitian art influenced by Vodou. He serves as a board member for Le Musée d’Art Haïtien and also as Executive Director of the Haitian Cultural Foundation. In the last 4 years he has produced and been featured in a handful of documentaries, articles, and publications on Vodou and the art and culture of Haiti, including the acclaimed documentary In the Eye of the Spiral and the CNN series The Believers. Lafontant is a U.S.-educated Communications and Financial professional who was very active in developing the credit card business of Haiti and later contributed in placing Western Union in the lead position of the remittance business in the country. A few months after Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010, he joined the humanitarian sector and served as Head of Communications for the Haitian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Through his work as a Spiritual Healer, diplomat, and cultural specialist, Lafontant has worked with diverse institutions promoting a global understanding of the multifaceted nation of Haiti and its diaspora.

Jah Sol’Sax has been marking art work that celebrates African traditional culture and its African-American retentions since 1991. His work has been shown at well known venues and collected internationally.

Andre Juste is a painter, sculptor, and published art writer as well as an educator in the Fine Arts and English at the elementary, high school, and college levels. He has taught extensively on the subject of Western modern art theory as well as alternate modernisms, especially as practiced in Haiti, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In addition to teaching, Juste has exhibited his art widely at institutions including the Jersey City Museum, Wadsworth Atheneum, The Smithsonian, Venice Biennale, Skoto Gallery and Exit Art.