Voodoo often conjures up an image of a doll with pins in it. But a new exhibit at the Museum of Civilization aims to show visitors that Hollywood’s image of Voodoo and the experiences of people who practice Vodou are quite different.
“It’s a religion as rich and as profound as any in the world,” said Dr. Mauro Peressini, one of three curators who created the exhibit. “This exhibit gives the opportunity to Vodouists to give their point of view of their own spirituality and history, and for the visitor to have the opportunity to listen to them.”
The exhibit focuses on the vodou of Haiti. Peressini said vodou was brought to Haiti from Africa through the slave trade and mixed with indigenous traditions and Christianity.
Practicing vodou was a way for Haiti’s first people to resist colonization, which led to its persecution and caricaturizing.
“When Americans occupied Haiti, they very soon saw that rebellions against their occupation came from vodou secret societies,” said Peressini.
The exhibit features over 300 objects, mostly from a larger collection gathered by Marianne Lehmann, a Swiss-born Haitian citizen. Lehmann bought the objects from Haitians who sold them to make money.  The small mirrors and shiny bits are a bit of comfort to vodouists, who believe they allow you into the spirit world.
Other pieces were gathered in Canada, like film footage of a vodou ceremony in Montreal. (Many Haitians have emigrated to eastern Canada.  Our winter weather must be a shock to them.)  During the ceremony, participants are possessed by lwas, vodou spirits.
“Possession is good for vodouists because it means the lwa has taken your body in order to communicate with the other participants,” said Peressini.
Vodou will be on exhibit until February 23, 2014.