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Windows to the outside

Maria Smith | Thursday, August 18, 2005

The next time you aren’t quite sure what to do with your hour break between classes, you may want to wander into the Snite Art Museum and take a look around. Turning into the entrance of the Snite, in the great hall of O’Shaughnessy, will give you a chance to see some interesting works and artifacts.During the last two weeks the Snite has welcomed three new exhibits offering particularly unique cultural insights to students who take a few minutes, or a few hours, to wander through the on-campus museum.

Haitian Vodou ArtsVodou is one of the most famous religions to grow out of the dispersion of African cultures through the Western hemisphere. It is often represented, and misrepresented, in popular culture. The Vodou flags and artifacts in this exhibit offer a real glimpse into this frequently misunderstood religion.The flags, at least two of which are kept in every temple, are devoted to different “laws” or deities, of the religion. The men, women and symbols representing deities are depicted in colorful beadwork and sequins, as well as braiding and occasional chromolithographs used for their faces. The flags also show cultural overlap that might be of particular interest at Notre Dame. The flags come from a country where, according to the Central Intelligence Agency, around 80 percent of the population is Roman Catholic but roughly half of the country practices Vodou. Vodou sometimes borrows images from other cultures and religions, and many flags use Catholic imagery to represent Vodou “lwas.” These images do not reflect their usual significance in Catholic culture. The image of Moses on one flag represents a deity with power over snakes, a trait which Moses also shared. The Virgin Mary appears as well, but represent Erzulie Frèda, the goddess of erotic love. Visiting this exhibit might spark some interest in the culture of the Caribbean island country that it came from.

“You’re Not From Around Here”Every photographer needs inspiration, and Mike Smith finds his in the streets and back roads around Johnson City, Tenn. “You’re Not From Around Here: Photographs of East Tennessee” offers a glimpse at these back roads, including the buildings and people that surround them. Smith captures buildings, backyard swing sets, panoramic views and people in their homes in a way that reflects the lives of the people alongside the land in which they live. The images might be familiar to anyone who has driven through that sort of backcountry and small towns of any state. Smith captures the sort of things that give many places in America their character, but that people might not commonly remember they noticed in passing through the place. “When I’m driving along, if I find myself turning my head to keep looking at something, I know it’s time to stop the car and get out my camera,” he recently explained in a press release.

Art From the InsideIt isn’t often you can get a glimpse into a life this different from the one you live.”Art From the Inside: Drawing (‘Paños’) by Chicano Prisoners” is a sample of almost 120 drawings on handkerchiefs created by Chicano prisoners in jails and penitentiaries in the American Southwest. The drawings take the form of messages to parents and loved ones outside the prison, prayers or personal narratives, each one telling a different story.The “paño” tradition is important to many prisoners who use the drawings as an outlet for their innermost thoughts and for many cherished images. The drawings create their stories through images that vary from the Aztec calendar stone to the Virgin of Guadalupe to the past loves of one prisoner’s life.Many earlier “paños” were drawn on bed sheets and other linen with fountain pens that easily tore the cloth, and have not survived. Drawn with fountain pens in the 1950s and ’60s, if discovered, the prisoners were punished for doing the drawings. Nowadays the drawing of “paños” is more easily facilitated, with linen cloths and ballpoint pens being sold to many prisoners, a practice that began in the 1980s. Most of the “paños” that are in the display are from the 1990s.”Art From the Inside: Drawing (‘Paños’) by Chicano Prisoners” will be open until Feb. 27. “Haitian Vodou Arts” will be on exhibit until March 6. “You’re Not From Around here: Photographs of East Tennessee” will be open until March 13.The opening reception for the winter exhibitions will be held on Sunday beginning at 2 p.m. Smith will give a lecture on his exhibit, followed by gallery talks from Douglas E. Bradely, curator of the Arts of the Americas, Africa and Oceania.The Snite Museum of Art is free and open to the public.