A Step Inside the Studio of Vodou Priest and Artist Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph

Kay koule tronpe soley, men li pa tronpe lapli Haitian proverb meaning A leaky house can fool the sun but it cant fool the rain. 

No visit to Croix-des-Bouquets is complete without a stop at the studio of world-famous vodou artist and priest, Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph. Jean Baptistes Isidor Gallery has been receiving customers from all over the world for years and some of his most impressive pieces sell for thousands of dollars. Yet despite his fame and notoriety, like many of the other highly successful artists of Croix-des-Bouquets Jean Baptiste has decided to stay in Haiti and continue his work and mentorship to other aspiring artists. This is what makes Croix-des-Bouquets so special.

Stepping into the Isidor Gallery feels like stepping into a dream. The scent of incense flavors the air and the walls are filled with a riot of colorful, imaginative vodou flags intricately designed and handcrafted. The lights are low or even off, and the hot, humid heat of Haiti adds to a slightly dizzying effect. To be inside Jean Baptistes studio and to see his work, gives one a true sense of Haitis rich, intricate culture and religion. It feels like magic.

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Jean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, Haiti

Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph was born in 1967 in La Vallé Bainet and was raised in Croix-des-Bouquets, a community known for its metal artisans in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. At a young age Jean Baptiste became passionate for folk art and textiles. Following his dream and passion for beadwork, he worked in a small factory where he honed his skills by sewing pearls and beads onto wedding dresses. Then in 1991, thanks to the receipt of a small loan from a friend, Jean Baptiste opened Isidor Gallery in Croix-des-Bouquets.

Fast forward two decades, and Jean Baptistes beadwork is world renown. Besides his famous vodou flags, Jean Baptiste and his fellow artisans make purses, bags, vodou dolls, and various other handicrafts. Like his fellow master artisans in Croix-des-Bouquets, Jean Baptiste has been instrumental in training new artisans in his field, helping the community prosper and ensuring this beautiful form of art does not die out.

Each flag is intricately beaded by hand and displays some of Haitis most mystical symbols from vodou. Even the name of his gallery, Isidor Gallery, is named after a famous vodou figure Saint Isidor –  – who was a farm laborer like his father.

Jean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, Haiti

Isidor Gallery Haiti

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Jean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, Haiti

Some of Jean Baptistes pieces go for thousands of dollars to wealthy tourists and art collectors who come specifically to Haiti to buy his art. Thankfully, his fame and fortune has  brought attention to Haitis artisans and has helped his community thrive.

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Vodou flags have a long history in Haitian vodou culture. Traditionally, vodou flags were used to decorate the site where a ceremony was taking place or were worn on the backs of participants in a vodou dance. Today, these amazing pieces of art are being used as decoration and are displayed on peoples walls. One flag can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks to make and Jean Baptiste is a leader in innovative designs.

P1070033-17 P1070036-19Jean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, Haiti

Jean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, HaitiOn a table inside his studio is row after row of beautiful one of a kind hand-beaded wallets.Jean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, HaitiJean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, Haiti

Alongside art, Jean Baptiste is also a highly esteemed vodou priest. He was identified as a priest back in 1991 and has been conducting ceremonies ever since. While there is no definite number, the Haitian government estimates that there are about 3,000 vodou priests in the country. The real number is difficult to ascertain however given the high amount of imposters as well as the unending taboo in discussing vodou. While the strength of Catholicism is always present in Haiti, vodou often still remains behind closed doors despite being recognized as an official religion in 1991. (Catholicism has been an official religion since Haitis independence).

P1070039-22 P1070041-23Thanks to pop culture, there is a tremendous amount of misunderstanding about the meaning and practice of vodou. The word vodou itself often invites images of vodou priests sticking pins into a vodou dolls to bring misfortunate upon an unknowing enemy or of someone cross-eyed, completely taken over by powerful spirits.While there may be a tiny slice of truth in this perception, vodou is actually a rather complex belief system and has been practiced in Haiti ever since the 18th century when West African slaves were forced under French rule to convert to Christianity. Instead of fully embracing Christianity, however, they learned to incorporate their own religious beliefs into the religion by assigning each Iwa (vodou spirit) to a Catholic counterpart. For example, the Iwa called Legba is associated with St. Peter. Assigning Iwas with Catholic saints was a way for the West African slaves to secretly continue to practice their own religion in disguise. A pretty amazing feat! Iwas also have a distinct list of recognizable symbols, offerings, attributes, homes, and colors. If you ever attend a vodou ceremony, see vodou-inspired art or visit a Haitians home, you will certainly see these attributes all around you. You just have to look. You will be surprised how often you will see it.Outside of the gallery is the home of Jean Baptistes vodou altar. A small fire was burning infiltrating the air with a light covering of smoke and giving the place a mystical feel.

Jean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, Haiti

Jean Baptiste Jean Jospeph, Isador Gallery, Haiti

Jean Baptiste showed us his altar and told us a little bit about what each symbol was for. On his altar, there are different symbols and offerings for the different deities he calls when needed. Some prefer rum, while others prefer coffee or a specific food. People come to him seeking protection, communication with their ancestors, prosperity, recovery from an illness or to ward off bad omens with enemies. The list is endless yet each vodou ceremony is private. One never knows what is discussed except the attendee and the priest.

Click to view slideshow.

Two years ago, when I was in Haiti I received this purse a beautiful unique piece made and blessed by Jean Baptiste during a short vodou ceremony. I have kept it in the drawer by the side of my bed ever since alongside my other special gifts. Little did I know Id be going back once again.

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Although it was only a small look into Haitian voodoo culture and life, I am glad I received it. It is these magical moments when traveling that make it so memorable.

I traveled to Haiti with my dear friend Haitian-American Nathalie (Nat) Tancrede. Passionate to show the true beauty and magic of Haiti, Nat launched her new travel business “Explore with Nat”. Nat provides a fully guided week-long trip exploring different regions of Haiti and embracing Haiti’s culture, history and people every step of the way. To learn more about Nat and her upcoming trips check out her website Explore with Nat. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram. 

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Artist Profile 5: Martin Schoeller – Identical: Portraits of Twins

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Its not so much about capturing the perfect expression, its more to make sure we get the same expression twice. (Schoeller, 2012). This artist profile is not necessarily related exactly in terms of visual content but more so in terms of capturing the face and the subtle differences between the two. This series is very interesting to me, more so because I am a twin myself but not identical by any means. I feel that Schoellers series was relevant because of the subtlety in the photographs. The slight differences in facial features make all the difference, you just have to find them. This was something that I wanted to take influence from with my own work. The differences are there in my own images, just you just need to distinguish which are real and what has been fabricated.

Much like my own series, Schoellers series of photographs, as well as his other works, do not aim to flatter. They want to capture every aspect of the face in each wrinkle, bulge and crease (Johnson, 2006). By capturing the faces of people like this he is able to present the sublte differences to the audience much easier. The facial features are much more distinguished and are therefore easier to spot allowing us to explore these images of twins far more intimately. With this level of intimacy it allows Schoeller to explore the subtle expression that underlies their personality (Close-Ups: A selection of works by photographer Martin Schoeller, 2009). By being an identical twin is must be difficult to express your individuality having another human being who looks exactly like you. Therefore your personality will be what separates the two of you the most. Although subtle in these images, its clear there are differences in these twins. A glimmer of personality shines through in a series clouded in similarities highlighting that they are individuals and not two in the same.

All cultures show a special interest in twins regardless of how they are born be it black and white, heavenly and earthly (Chevalier, Gheerbrant and Buchanan-Brown, 1996) they are all seen as special. I believe that this is what makes the series so strong. It is a collection of photographs designed to show similarities across every single set of twins and triplets, yet in doing so it creates a catalogue of such special individuals bonded in their individuality that separates them from regular siblings and children. The series celebrates similarity and them as individuals through the recognition of subtle differences, something that I have taken into my own work to convey the minor changes that make an audience question an image.

Chevalier, J., Gheerbrant, A. and Buchanan-Brown, J. (1996). A dictionary of symbols. London, England: Penguin Books, p.1047.

Close-Ups: A selection of works by photographer Martin Schoeller. (2009). Esquire, May, pp.70-71.

Johnson, K. (2006). Martin Schoeller: Close Up. New York Times, June(23), p.N/A.

Schoeller, M. (2012). The Making of Identical: Portraits of Twins. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzdaiJIahUY [Accessed 11 May 2015].

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Miniature Artist Suvigya Sharma

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The artist does a Lifelike Portrait for the PMO Delhi

 

Mumbai, 22 May 2017; Indian miniature artist Suvigya Sharma makes a new mark in history- does a hyperreal portrait of Hon. PM Narendra Modi and present it to him at the Prime Minister’s Office in Delhi. Suvigya is India’s only artist renowned for portrait miniature paintings that he commissions for his crème de la crème clientele in the country and abroad.

 

The PM’s love for art is no surprise as is evident in his infamous tweet about art posted earlier this year which read, “Art can’t have any restrictions or limits.” The 34 year old artist Suvigya dedicates this painting to the ceaseless spirit and vision of the Prime Minister saying, “I have adored Modiji for being a visionary and taking our country towards becoming a global super power through his vision. The whole country loves him and I could only express my gratitude towards him through my love- my art.”

 

The lifesize portrait is a detailed (3.5 ft x 3 ft) hyperreal miniature painting with oil on canvas, bears a calm expression on the PM’s face, conveying the artist’s attempt at portraying him as a visionary. The National Emblem broach tucked onto the PMs jacket in the painting is gilded in 24 Kt gold. “It was a proud moment when Modiji explicitly expressed how much he loved the painting. I was truly heartened when he mentioned that the painting will be placed in his own cabin at his office”, he says.

Suvigya is an artist, painter, fashion designer, does miniature paintings, Tanjore paintings, fresco work and portraits. The art which he​ pursues​ is perishing and has a long history of over 2000 years attached to it. He’s​ the third generation artist and has commissioned art​works for a majority of industrial & celebrity families in India and the world including most prominent names like the Ambani Family, Mrs Rajshri Birla, Binanis, Singhanias, Burmans, Piramal family, Sachin Tendulkar,​ Priyanka Chopra,​ Rani Mukerji and​ Kangana Ranaut.

 

During his meeting with the PM, they discussed about how miniature is a one of its kind art form- its technique, how it has been perishing and how the artist has been striving to nurture and grow the art. The PM also took keen interest in knowing about Suvigya’s aspirations about transpiring his art to the weaker sections of the society and creating opportunities for the newer generations.

With this successful leap, the artist looks forward for affiliating with the government to be representing, nurturing and promoting art and culture. He aims at creating an art ecosystem for the weaker sections of the society through training and skill development. “India has great scope for restoration of historic and heritage buildings. Art, culture and tourism are seamlessly inter-connected. My genre of art can be leveraged to generate more opportunities for the underprivileged by creating skilled artists and artisans in our own country. I wish to draw the attention of the Ministry of Skill Development and would consider myself privileged to be able to contribute towards this cause“, adds Suvigya.

Notably, Suvigya was recently in the news for commissioning a hyperreal portrait for the international heartthrob singer Justin Bieber and presenting it to him during his India Tour earlier this month.

Who’s Next? Dominique Butler and YPT’s Young Artist Fellowship

Dominique Butler cutout “I’m not just writing for myself, I’m writing for everybody.”
– Dominique Butler

The young playwrights that YPT serves are all immensely gifted: smart and creative; funny and dramatic; profoundly invested in the world they create on the page. All go on to do great things, and many who complete our In-School Playwriting Program choose to stay involved with YPT, through our Young Playwrights’ Workshop, Student Advisory Council or other opportunities.

Every so often, however, a playwright comes along who demonstrates a long-term commitment to the craft, whose artistic project exceeds the bounds of one performance and who has shown an interest  in an ongoing mentorship with YPT staff. For those young playwrights, YPT is proud to announce the Young Artist Fellowship: a year-long mentorship designed to engage one teen writer in a play development process from start to finish. Presently in its first year, the Fellowship seeks to cultivate the Young Artist Fellow as an artist as well as a future member of the workforce, teaching accountability and commitment through one-on-one mentorship with a YPT staff member.

YPT’s inaugural Young Artist Fellow, Dominique Butler, emerged from our In-School Program at Cardozo High School with an extraordinary piece of writing. Entitled Like Father, Like Son, Dominique’s play follows a young black man trying not to repeat the mistakes that landed his father in jail. The play’s emotional honesty struck a chord with our New Play Festival readers, and Like Father, Like Son wound up closing our 2015 Festival to resounding applause.

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Dominique watches his words unfold onstage.

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Reginald Richard as Dominique in LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON

But Dominique wasn’t done yet. The poet and storyteller, who started writing at age 13 to cope with the death of his grandfather, had more to say—and he wouldn’t stop until he said it. “It happens here all the time…if you’re out there just chilling, you’re a target,” he says. “These people got names.”

The people Dominique means have names like Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner: young black men killed by police or other authority figures, victims of a pattern of institutionalized racism and violence that has galvanized our nation. As the #BlackLivesMatter movement rose to prominence, Dominique found himself compelled to join in their call—especially when his own friend, Davon, was shot and killed by DC police. From his grief emerged Who’s Next?, a play which imagines that Davon, Trayvon and Freddie are friends who use music to speak out against police brutality—and whose clarion call leads to a dramatic confrontation with a police officer. “It’s a message,” Dominique says. “It’s not just a play.”

Dominique’s message began to take shape at Curious Theatre Company’s Curious New Voices National Collective in Denver, which he attended over the summer. “Dominique is amazing,” writes Curious New Voices Program Director Dee Covington. “Quiet, diligent, taking it all in. …[The other playwrights] had no idea his piece, at once personal and political, was there to shake up the world.” As Like Father, Like Son had at the 2015 New Play Festival, Who’s Next? closed the Curious New Voices final performance to a standing ovation and watery eyes. “Some people were crying,” Dominique admits.

 

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Dominique and the other playwrights in the post-show talkback.

Actors performing WHO'S NEXT

Professional actors perform WHO’S NEXT? at Curious New Voices.

 

Back in DC, Dominique strove to continue working on Who’s Next?. We at YPT had been considering launching a Young Artist Fellowship for some time, and realized that Dominique’s project provided us with the perfect opportunity to pilot the program. So, in October, 2015, we signed a contract with our first-ever Young Artist Fellow, and began meeting with him regularly to finish Who’s Next? and deepen its message. After a reading at Cardozo High School, Who’s Next?  inspired our next production, Silence Is Violence: Who’s Next?, a professional staged reading and multidisciplinary artistic response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Join us on Monday, February 29, at 7pm at the Anacostia Playhouse for this powerful continuation of YPT’s Silence Is Violence series. Free and open to the public!

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Though Dominique’s time as YPT’s Young Artist Fellow will conclude in June, we are excited to continue the program next year and beyond with another talented young artist. Who will take up the mantle and shape his or her own project? What will the next Young Artist Fellowship hold? How will this one impact Dominique—and, through him, the world—in the next few years? We don’t know yet, but we can’t wait to find out!