Stepping into the Gallery Isidor in Haiti feels like stepping into a dream. The scent of incense flavors the air and the walls are filled with a riot of colorful, imaginative voodoo flags intricately designed by world-famous bead artist and voodoo priest Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph. To be inside Jean Baptiste’s studio and to see his work, gives one a true sense of Haiti’s rich, intricate culture and religion.
Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph was born in 1967 in La Vallé Bainet and was raised in Croix-des-Bouquet, 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 dreams 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-Bouquet.
Fast forward two decades, and Jean Baptiste’s beadwork is world renown. Besides his famous voodoo flags, Jean Baptiste and his fellow artisans make purses, bags, voodoo 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.
Unfortunately like most parts of Haiti, the electricity was sparse making it hard to capture the true essence and beauty of Jean Baptiste’s amazing beadwork. But I tried my best given the circumstances and lack of a good indoor flash.
Each flag is intricately beaded by hand and displays some of Haiti’s most mystical symbols from voodoo. Even the name of his gallery, Isidor Gallery, is named after a famous voodoo figure Saint Isidor – – who was a farm laborer like his father.
Some of Jean Baptiste’s 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 Haiti’s artisans and has helped his community thrive.
Voodoo flags have a long history in Haitian voodoo culture. Traditionally, voodoo flags were used to decorate the site where a ceremony was taking place or were worn on the backs of participants in a voodoo dance. Today, these amazing pieces of art are being used as decoration and are displayed on people’s walls. One flag can take anywhere from 2-6 weeks to make and Jean Baptiste is a leader in innovative designs.
At the end of our tour of the gallery, Jean Baptiste had a little surprise for our group. We were invited to partake in our very own voodoo ceremony! He led us to the back of his gallery, where most of the art is made.
The five of us entered a small, candlelight room where we were told to watch in silence. Jean Baptiste had five small beaded purses – one for each one of us – that he blessed for us. It was one of the most fascinating cultural experiences I had while in Haiti. I was completely mesmerized.
My blessed purse, a beautiful unique piece by Jean Baptiste.
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.
This post was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Intricate. To view more entries click here.
I was in Haiti on behalf of #Bloggers4Haiti to see the work of Heart of Haiti’s artisans. To read more posts about my visit to Haiti, click here. For a fabulous article on Jean Baptiste (bio, voodoo culture and his work) click here.