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It's Vodou—Not Voodoo—At The Field Museum

By Marielle Shaw in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 23, 2014 6:00PM

1. Guard Zazi Maza Wangol.jpg
Guard Zazi Maza Wangol sculpture. Image courtesy The Field Museum of Natural History

In pop culture, voodoo is oftentimes a fear inducer. It conjures thoughts of whispered incantations, pins and powders, even zombies. The face of the voodoo we know is a dark one, laughing skulls and scary masks.

The truth is we’re not only spelling it wrong, we’re getting it wrong. Vodou is a religion borne out of struggle for survival and the fight against slavery and oppression. It’s about remembering those who came before and drawing power from those people and their memories.

We had a chance to preview the Field Museum’s new exhibit Tuesday (which is also the first stop for the exhibit in North America), and it’s immediately obvious on entering the exhibit that they’ve laid everything bare. There’s hardly anything that’s behind glass, to the point where you could see any curator dealing with a little more anxiety than usual about the beautiful pieces within.

Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti opens with bold, winged and horned “fighting Iwa, “ a simple but affecting cross, and a wonderful timeline that details the origins and progression of Haitian vodou, as well as its ties to the Haitian community here in Chicago. And while the images seem ghoulish, with empty eyes, horns and serpents, perception is not reality. The bull’s horns symbolize strength, and the wings the ability to soar above struggle. Even the serpent spirit is a benevolent one.

As you walk from one room to another, bright colors and magnificent art emerge. Visitors come face to face with it, and it’s easier to see the real spirit of vodou—that this is about where you came from, about family and overcoming struggle. It shares a common theme with the Dia De Los Muertos, reminding us that our loved ones will remain influences long past when they leave the earth. So as you wander the skulls and serpents, intricate and colorful, maybe they’ll be more than creepy and ghoulish.

It’s a concept worth exploring, and there’s no better way to get up close and personal with it than this exhibit. It is groundbreakingly open and full of life and color. It offers a great look into a culture that’s often misunderstood, and opens it up for exploration and celebration. Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti opens on Friday, and will be at the Field Museum through April 26, 2015.