Categories: Cathy Breslaw, SD Press Club Award winner, THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: Myrlande Constant: The Work of Radiance

Fowler Museum at UCLA
Through July 16, 2023

Article by Cathy Breslaw
April 8, 2023

Myrlande Constant (b. 1968, Port-au-Prince, Haiti), Nègre Danbala Wedo, 1994–2019; sequins, glass beads, and silk on cotton; Collection of Pérez Art Museum Miami

Haitian artist Myrlande Constant entices us with her hand-beaded textiles – also called Drapos (ritual flags). As I walk through her retrospective at the Fowler Museum, I sense an intensity of spirit in the highly personal narratives imbued with Vodou iconography that I am left to decipher. As I stare closely at each one, I am tempted  to touch the shiny, shimmering and sparkling minuscule and richly colored glass and plastic beads, sequins, shells and synthetic textiles and silk the artist uses to construct her spiritually driven stories on cloth.

Expertly trained in beadwork at a wedding dress factory as a teenager, Constant left her job where she worked alongside her mother and began what she calls “painting with beads”.  Because her tapestries can take several years to complete, and have been as large as 17’ x 11’, she employs an Atelier of helpers including family members to work hand-in-hand to accomplish her labor-intensive works. Beginning with pencil drawings on white cloth, the beads and sequins are painstakingly sewn into the cloth using a tambour needle enabling her to create densely detailed imagery, incorporating colors associated with the spirits. Patterned and solid cloth or fringes adorn and ‘frame’ the borders of the works while the subject matter uses emblematic references to religious objects including a mix of the Virgin Mary and Catholic saints with Vodou symbols. Candelabras, goblets, food, fruit, flowers and geometrical drawings (ve¢ve¢ representing Iwa) all offer  nourishment to the spirit, and sustain a relationship between the living, the dead and Iwa.

Practicing the religion of Vodou, Constant’s themes combine Iwa (God/spirits in many forms, while honoring her ancestors with text in Haitian Creole, uniting religious and political ideology, Haitian history, lived experiences, emblems, temples, and ceremonies. Some of Constant’s stories depict personal alters, rituals, dance, feasts, and processional festivals featuring musical instruments, using figures of men and women with a diversity of skin color.

Curated by Katherine Smith, Fowler curatorial research associate of Haitian arts and Jerry Philogene, associate professor of American Studies at Dickenson College,

The Work of Radiance is the first museum retrospective of a Haitian female artist, with works spanning Constant’s 30 plus year career. Though the Vodou religion was born out of slavery and the plantation system, a large percentage of Haitians continue to worship as it is inextricably steeped into Haitian culture and Constant who is sometimes referred to as a ‘mystic’ artist, beautifully demonstrates this in her works. Her tableaus have deservedly made their way into contemporary museums and galleries where her work belongs and can be seen by a wide and diverse audience.

Myrlande Constant (b. 1968, Port-au-Prince, Haiti), Haiti Madi 12 Janvye 2010 (Haiti, Tuesday, January 12, 2010), 2012, fabric, beads, and sequins; Fowler Museum at UCLA, X20133.35.1
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