Life and Spirituality in Haitian Art: Spirituality and Religion

Spirituality and Religion

Spiritual and religious imagery are frequently the subjects of Haitian art. Catholic themes are based on biblical stories and religious references inspired by Vodou, the Afro-diasporic religion practiced by Haitians both on and off the island. Many artists featured in the exhibition practiced both religions and depicted their ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations. Mid-twentieth-century Haitian aesthetics emerged from the peasant and the urban lower classes. Many artists began their careers painting walls of Vodou temples and ritual objects, and others painted murals in Catholic Churches. After the Revolution, the newly formed elite adopted French manners and culture, and consequently, Catholicism remains Haiti’s official religion.

Vodou is a syncretic religion created from the combination of tribal beliefs from Congo, Angola, Dahomey, and Yoruba, which provides a powerful unifying force on the island. Its practice excites the active and performative participation of its followers expressed in music, dance, and possession. There are over one thousand spirits who share human traits and are identified by specific colors and designs. One of the most common symbols is the veves, found on temple walls and painted on the ground during Vodou ceremonies. Other images are more subtle and refer to religious cosmologies and the world of the ancestors in symbolic ways by tracing veves or representing the spirits in the form of birds and plants. Respect for nature is essential for spiritual harmony and expressed in the remarkable details of Haitian painting.