Haitian Drawings and Vodou Flags In Show at Stuart Country Day School
Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart’s winter gallery exhibition in the Considine Gallery has two parts to it. Both concern the art and culture of Haiti. One is a display of black and white drawings by the Haitian artist Edens Cathyl, the other is a striking collection of vividly colored Haitian flags from the private collections of Bucks County resident Jill Kearney and Tony Fisher of Indigo Arts in Philadelphia.
An opening reception is scheduled for Friday, January 23, from 5 to 7 p.m. and a talk by the exhibition’s curator Madeleine Shellaby will take place on Tuesday, January 27 at 11 a.m.
Ms. Shellaby is the co-founder of the non-profit Princeton Haiti KONEKTE (www.konekteprincetonhaiti.com), which supports educational initiatives in Haiti, and the exhibition commemorates the fifth anniversary of the devastating earthquake in that country. A fund raising event at Stuart will be held on January 25, from 5 to 8 p.m.
Titled “Stories from Haiti,” Mr. Cathyl’s series of drawings depict his life there. A member of the Art Matenwa community on the island of Gonave, Mr. Cathyl began his artistic journey as a “restavek” or indentured servant who was “given away by his mother to his uncle” as a boy.
According to the Art Matenwa website, Mr. Cathyl’s is one of the organization’s success stories (see: http://artmatenwa.org/life-in-matenwa/) having arrived “as an undernourished 13-year-old with enormous eyes and serious demeanor. Long and thin, with the dry skin of an old man, Edens had been abandoned by his mother to his uncle’s family. In spite of his quietness, the school principal recognized his intelligence and artistic ability and sent him to us to learn to make art which he practiced with energy and concentration.”
“First I learned how to make silver jewelry with two other students. When that stopped I learned how to paint and make prints and now I make my own drawings,” said Mr. Cathyl, who has expressed his desire to go to art school. “I want people to love my drawings so I can live,” he said.
Now 26, the artist channels his own experiences through the story of a boy’s life in rural Haiti; several of the drawings are from a book that he is working on. The book will feature images such as Country Boy Leading Goat, which shows a slim figure clad in shorts striding ahead of several goats and donkeys. The drawing, which is black and white ink on gesso board, conveys an almost timeless scene with details suggestive of narrative. The thick rope is slack, its frayed end loosely held by the boy’s hand.
As a developing artist, Mr. Cathyl learned the technique that has allowed him to create such elegant and bold compositions from the artist Ellen LeBow, who divides her time between the Haitian artistic community and her Massachusetts home. He credits Ms. Lebow’s tutelage for helping to develop his keen eye for detail and for teaching him how to use materials such as the India ink he brushed onto the surface of a hard board coated with soft white kaolin clay in order to create images like Country Boy Leading Goat. The artist used a blade to “draw” into the ink-covered gesso board and carve away the ink to reveal the white beneath.
That part of the exhibition devoted to Haitian flags is a display of traditional sequined cloth festival flags with images of the Haitian Iwa, or spirits.
Known as Drapeau Vodou in Kreyol (or Haitian Creole), the flags constitute a spectacular Haitian art form. Created originally as sacred ritual objects within the Vodou religious community, the flags welcome a pantheon of spirits to temple ceremonies. Once objects of interest primarily to anthropologists, the flags have captured the attention of tourists in recent years and are now being made for the art market.
According to a press release from Stuart, “with this new purpose, the artistic imagery of the flags is changing from a strict adherence to tradition to a freer, more expressive form.”
The exhibition, which includes recent works by contemporary artisans, will be on view at Stuart Country Day School, 1200 Stuart Road, through February 12, when school is in session Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
For more information, call (609) 921-6105, or visit www.stuartschool.org. Tickets ($60) for the January 25 KONEKTE fund raiser include presentations on the life and work of Edens Cathyl by Ellen LeBow and on the creation and significance of Haitian flags by Tony Fisher. For tickets, visit: www.konekteprincetonhaiti.com.