Saint James the Greater on a white horse facing right, hodling a flag with a red cross
Bedecked with hundreds of sparkling, hand-sewn sequins, this Haitian Vodou drapo (flag) pulsates with the vibrancy of the religion for which it has spiritual importance. Worshippers charge into a sacred space bearing the drapo during the special ritual invoking the lwa (godlike spirits). Filled with intriguing, complex symbols, the flag further exemplifies the rich blend of cultures and traditions defining Haiti. The drapo conforms to a compositional formula, which features a single, prominent symbol or motif in the center surrounded by a field, often filled with triangles.
This drapo provides insight into the Catholic traditions that contribute to Haiti’s distinctive cultural synthesis. It presents St. Jacques (James), a Catholic saint, but he is a surrogate for Ogou, the Haitian loa of masculinity and war. This dual identify is symptomatic of the Black Codes that were established in the New World to impose Catholicism on and, thereby, to control the slaves. But the slaves cleverly incorporated Christian ideas and iconography into their own faith and art, subverting the colonists’ goals. Triumphantly astride a great white horse, St. Jacques/Ogou also recalls the function of these flags as symbols of military power and, therefore, evokes the Haitian Revolution of 1791–1804, a great source of national pride.
The Mead’s two flags were possibly created in the Bel-Air slum of Port-au-Prince, famous for its sequin artists and severely damaged in the great earthquake of 2010. Their good condition and plain borders suggest that they were made to be sold as souvenirs rather than to be used in actual rituals.
Timothy Clark, Class of 2012
American Art Intern, Spring 2010
figures; religion; patterns; horses; animals; saints
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