Brian Michael Reed: “In the Crosscurrent” is a dialogue between a native West Virginian artist, Brian Michael Reed, and the Vodou-based works from the Winslow Anderson Collection of Haitian Art at the Huntington Museum of Art. The exhibition—curated by Laura Roulet—opened on November 4, 2018, and will be on view through February 10, 2019. The museum is located at 2033 McCoy Road, Huntington, West Virginia. Here are excerpts from the curator’s essay:
In the Crosscurrent juxtaposes vibrant sculpture by native West Virginian artist Brian Michael Reed with Vodou-based works selected from the Winslow Anderson Collection of Haitian Art. These artworks focus on using everyday materials and objects to activate the spirit through assemblage, ritual and symbolism. Washington D.C.-based guest curator Laura Roulet draws cross-cultural connections between Reed’s staffs, inspired by West African Kongo minkisi, and the Afro-Caribbean imagery associated with the practice of Vodou.
The triangle in this exhibition between North America, Africa and Haiti, mirrors the “triangle trade” of trans-Atlantic slavery, which resulted not only in a dark, tragic period of human exploitation, but also largely-unrecognized cultural interconnections. Through his graduate studies at Yale University with renowned African and Afro-American scholar Robert Farris Thompson, Reed learned about the persistence of African spiritual practices and beliefs in the Caribbean and American South despite the profound disruptions of slavery.
Following a revolution led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, in 1804, Haiti became the second independent nation in the Americas, after the United States. As a former French colony, largely repopulated by African slaves, Haiti maintains a unique creole culture. The Haitian paintings, sculpture, and ritual objects in this exhibit all relate to Vodou, which is a syncretic religion evolved from West African traditions combined with elements of Catholicism. Bondye is the Supreme Being in Vodou, but the spirits known as lwa serve as intermediaries to this all-powerful god, in a way that Haitian slaves probably identified as the role of Catholic saints. Images of saints take on a double meaning. A green and white-clad man wielding a staff to drive away snakes on a beaded banner (drapo) is recognizable as Saint Patrick to Christians, but also represents Danbala, the Vodou lwa of wisdom. The female lwa of love, Ezili, who is represented by the vèvè drawing of a heart with flowers, may be depicted as the Madonna. What appears to American eyes as a mermaid, is La Sirèn, the female spirit of the ocean, symbolized by fish, shells, a mirror or comb, and the colors of blue and white. The lwa also often have dual aspects: Rada, representing Africa, the Old World, the cooler manifestation, and Petwo, representing the diaspora, the condition of slavery and the “hot” side of the spirit.
Vodou is a religion without a Biblical text. The practice has been transmitted from generation to generation over centuries by spoken word, ceremony and visual art. The Anderson Collection contains a rich trove of the sacred art of Vodou, which is demystified and enhanced by this dialogue with Reed’s assemblages. [. . .]
In the Crosscurrent explores what gives an artwork spiritual power and meaning. How are objects activated by the maker and viewer? What do figures, shapes and colors symbolize? The richness of imagery in both Brian Reed’s sculptures and the Haitian artwork invites discoveries of many more connections.
Read the full essay at https://www.hmoa.org/art/exhibition/brian-michael-reed-in-the-crosscurrent