Baron Samedi Visits His New Orleans
Cotton, cotton-polyester, satin, organza
71 1/2” x 53”
Photo by Pearl Yee Wong, all rights reserved Michigan
State University Museum
I began this quilt as an artist in residence at Michigan State
University. It was inspiring to work right in the gallery surrounded
by the powerful quilts assembled for the exhibition celebrating
the Declaration of Human Rights. I was honored that the University
chose to acquire the finished work. I thank Pat Turner, UC Davis,
for including the piece in progress in a presentation at the American
Folklore Society on “Katrina quilts” and Marsha MacDowell
for showing interest and patience as I completed it.
The boat and the water have been both the sites of despair
and death and means of escape and hope economic and physical lifelines
for Haitians and the people of African descent in New Orleans. Baron
Samedi in the sacred traditions of Haiti- and in New Orleans, is
both guardian of the cemetery and the lwa of procreation/fertility/virility.
He combines both the origins of life and the decay of the body.
He inspires acts of conception and leads souls to the afterlife.
The inner border alludes to the oil spills that represents
new water related difficulties that impact the lives, peoples and
cultures of the region. I always saw the image of the crowded ships
that brought Africans across the Middle Passage to these shores
and the Caribbean as powerful but as I sewed the images to the quilt
marking the stitches with attention to the number of human beings
whose bodies lay side by side, I suddenly had a visceral sense of
what it must have been like to be on that ship. The boats that bring
Haitians on the risky journey to the US borders (as depicted in
the quilt) are equally as crowded as were some of the boats attempting
to rescue Katrina survivors. It was tempting to include images from
and allusions to the recent earthquake, but chose to deal with water
related issues only in this piece.
I wanted the quilt, though depicting devastation to be beautiful
even in the depiction of tragedy, in homage to the people of both
Haiti and New Orleans who continue with so much tragedy with spirit
N’Diaye is an anthropologist, visual artist, Cultural Heritage
Specialist and Curator at the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife
and Cultural Heritage and a Research Associate, Michigan State University
Museum. N’Diaye grew up in a Caribbean family where she learned
at an early age a love of needlework from her elder aunts and a
love of working with cloth from her mother Patricia Croney and her
teacher, New York couturier Zelda Wynn.