Mimesis was essential to the birth of Haitian Vodou art. During the 1940s, worker-artists in urban Haiti imitated foreign entrepreneurs' imitations of their imagined essence. Yet the role of mimetic interplay in folk-art reproduction was concealed by loftier claims of authenticity. This essay reports on one minor instance of this contradiction as a means of engaging modes of seeing, representing, and consuming the exotic folk essence of the Haitian nation. A local scandal erupted after children from an elementary school in the Chicago area created inventive copies of the allegedly sacred objects they had viewed at a major exhibit of Haitian Vodou art. Discussion of this incident is illuminated by memoirs of travel and other texts by experts who participated in the birth of Haitian ethnology, tourism, and Vodou art during the mid-twentieth century's “golden age of Haitian tourism.” Ethnographic research over the past two-and-a-half decades on Haitians' religious practice and discourse in Port-au-Prince and Léogane, Haiti, and in South Florida further informs this discussion.
Karen E. Richman; Innocent Imitations? Authenticity and Mimesis in Haitian Vodou Art, Tourism, and Anthropology. Ethnohistory 1 April 2008; 55 (2): 203–227. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00141801-2007-061
Download citation file: