Editor’s note: A longer version of this article first appeared in November 2010.
The glittering tradition of Haiti’s voudou flags consists of intricate beading that illustrates Haiti's vibrant spiritual tradition, voudou, with its vivid, syncretic combination of Roman Catholic saints, West African deities, and uniquely Haitian figures. Beading and vodou go hand- in-hand.
Vodou maintains a strong community of master bead workers concentrated in Croix des Bouquets, Haiti. The embroiderers are practitioners themselves. Working with apprentice craftsmen, the vodou masters create intricate ceremonial flags (drapo in Creole) and other sacred objects to be used in the elaborate ceremonies celebrating every aspect of life and death.
The availability of sequins and European glass beads allow artisans to add a dimension of color and texture not previously available for this type of work. Availability is limited and inconsistent, which seems to encourage a constant flow of creativity in order to make do with what is at hand without sacrificing quality or meaning.
Artisans have adapted and applied their techniques to many objects both religious and secular, and in doing so have created a vibrant international market for these skills. Vodou-inspired beadwork can be seen on everything from the traditional drapo to chairs and boxes and even handbags. This art form has inspired designers from a variety of cultures to work with the artists of Haiti. Lawrence Peabody, Sherri Donghia, and many others have found inspiration in the bead work here.
And as the world grows smaller, artists of this region are incorporating the new iconography of the international culture into their work. From Botticelli’s Venus rendered in the finest bugle beads to Disney’s Jasmine morphed into a vodou mermaid (La Sirene), artists such as Jean-Baptiste Jean-Joseph and Georges Valris continue this tradition and show the evolution of an art form and a culture.