MUSEUM CAMPUS — A new exhibit making its U.S. debut at the Field Museum Friday may feature human remains and somber subject matter, but curators don't want it to be viewed as a festive destination for Halloween revelers.
Knowing that the touring exhibition would land in Chicago mere weeks before Halloween, the exhibition team made a concerted effort to eschew the image of vodou as a "scary" or "spooky" subject, according to Janet Hong, project manager for the Field.
"There is a lot of imagery that is unfamiliar to people, but once you learn about it, you can see how it's relatable to everyone," Hong said of "Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti," which opens Friday and runs through April 26.
"When I first saw these objects with human remains, I didn't know what they were about. And I thought, 'Are they supposed to inspire fear?'" Hong said. "But what I learned is that, for many Haitians, it feels good to have your ancestors around — you're cherishing them.
"It's sort of like Catholics feeling closer to the saints if they have a little piece of their remains near them."
Dispelling myths about the Vodou religion is one of the primary goals of the touring exhibit, which makes its U.S. debut in Chicago after being revamped in Ottawa for a North American tour following a "very successful" run in Europe, said Jean-Marc Blais, director general of the Canadian Museum of History, where the showcase just wrapped.
Vodou — emphasis on the second syllable, not the first — is a native Haitian tradition practiced through physical representations of "Lwa," or spirits, representing deceased ancestors and concepts like love, sensuality and courage in battle.
"The evil Vodou doll and its pins! How many times have we had to explain that it exists only in fiction and movies!" reads an informational panel near a timeline tracing the religion's history from 1492 to the present.
The exhibition team says seemingly-macabre motifs like skulls, bones, skeletons and weaponry are represented in a reverent light, similar to the role of decorated and candy skulls as part of Dia de los Muertos in Mexican culture. Images of Vodou as dark and death-centric stem from misrepresentations the exhibition aims to dispel.
The last leg of the exhibit is lined with ornately decorated mirrors, which Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique, a practicing Vodou priestess and anthropologist, who helped design the exhibition, says was no accident.
The exhibit "ends with mirrors, giant mirrors," Beauvoir-Dominique said. "And in these mirrors, we see ourselves."
The exhibition includes 300 objects, part of a 3,000-artifact collection donated by Marianne Lehmann, who began collecting sacred objects in 1986 while working in the Swiss consulate in Haiti. She later married a Haitian and became a citizen of the Caribbean country.
Access to the Vodou exhibit requires an additional ticket beyond the general admission pass. Tickets for Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti, which includes general admission to the museum, are $25 for adults, $18 for children ages 3 to 11, and $20 for students and senior citizens 65 and older.
Tickers are available on the Field Museum website.
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