Haitian Houngan and flagmaker Silva Joseph Dies at 81

Silva Joseph, a highly regarded Vodou flag maker, died yesterday morning of health complications following a stroke a year ago. The artist, who had been partly paralyzed by the stroke but had continued to work on his flags, had been hospitalized since his conditioned worsened about two weeks ago.

Joseph was born in Leogane, Haiti in 1930. He was initiated into vodou in 1955. After becoming a houngan (or Vodou priest) in 1970 he worked out of his peristil (temple) in the Bel Air neighborhood of Poert-au-Prince. His initiation and priesthood were the path to his art, as the sequined flags are used as altarpieces and are “danced” at the beginning of Vodou ceremonies. He created his first vodou flag in 1972 and works in the tradition of BelAir’s famous flag artists, such as Tibout, Joseph Fortine and Luc Daniel Cedor.

Silva Joseph’s work is published in Sequin Artists of Haiti (Girouard, 1994) and Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou (Cosentino, 1995). In October 2000, the Liverpool Museum commissioned Joseph to make eight Vodou flags. Six of them hang in the World Cultures gallery as you approach the entrance to the Americas section of the Museum.

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