The spirit of Haiti and Africa

The African Studies Gallery presents an exhibition of vodou flags.

Dambalah detail - key/Erzulie Freda (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dambalah detail - key/Erzulie Freda
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If the word Vodou, better known as Voodoo, conjures up images of nefarious witchcraft, shrunken heads and sticking needles in human-shaped effigies, you are probably in good company.
Then again, if that’s where your knowledge of the religious practice begins and ends, then it’s about time you did some reading up on the topic.
Alternatively, you might want to pop along to the African Studies Gallery in Alrov Tower on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard at 11 a.m. today, for the opening of the Vodou Flags exhibition. And, if you feel getting an even better handle on the subject matter is in order, you might want to go over there tomorrow at 8 p.m. for a master class and workshop.
The main items on display are flags used in Vodou ritual ceremonies. “There are all kinds of flags which symbolize the different Vodou spirits,” explains Sharona Natan, an Israeli artist who owns the El-Saieh Gallery in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The Caribbean country is also home to Anne-Marie Moreau, who specializes in creating Vodou flags using a variety of disciplines and materials, and is in Israel for the opening.
The majority of the works in the exhibition curated by Idit Toledano come from a collection owned by Dr. Jacques Bartoly, from the Haitian Resource Development Foundation, which develops programs that enable and empower Haitians “to further personal and collective independence.”
That line of thought and action was very much in evidence when I visited the Kuchinate-African Refugee Women’s Collective in south Tel Aviv earlier in the week.
I caught Natan, Moreau and around 10 asylum-seeking women from a number of African countries with their heads down, needles in hand, and working busily and happily away at producing all kinds of appealing items, using crocheting, embroidery, bead weaving and sequins.
The exhibition will also feature handicraft and artistic creations produced by the women who attend and work at the collective facility.
Kuchinate, which means “single-needle crocheting” in Tigrinya, a language spoken in Eritrea and Ethiopia, is run by South African-born Dr. Diddy Mymin-Kahn. Mymin-Kahn is a trained psychologist and trauma therapist who as well as confounding Kuchinate has worked as a professional adviser for  NGO IsraAid and has been involved in projects in Haiti, West Africa and the Philippines
Mymin-Kahn says the socio-psychological project is an important hub on a number of levels.
“All the women here are asylum-seekers and do not have refugee status.” Being in a constant state of legal limbo, and often living in difficult conditions, Kuchinate, which opened in 2011, offers the women some respite from the challenges of daily life, and a sense of warmth and camaraderie.
The artistic and craft-aesthetic bottom-line is important, but Kuchinate offers the women who go there much more.
“In 2009 the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) wanted to do a pilot project, to give mental health assistance to women who had been through the Sinai, and who had been victims of torture,” Mymin-Kahn explains. “I had worked a lot with trauma in London. When I started meeting these women and working with them, I realized they were women that were in a terrible state. They were all in a state of survival. They needed money. They wanted to know how they were going to feed themselves and their children today and tomorrow.”
And so Kuchinate came to be. “I wanted to do something that was therapeutic and income-generating, and could bring a group of women together to support each other,” Mymin-Kahn continues.
She also joined forces with Sister Azezet Habtezghi Kidane - generally called Sister Aziza – an Eritrean-born nun who became a British citizen, and is now based in Jerusalem. In 2012, Sister Aziza, who helped to cofound Kuchinate, received a US Department of State award as a “hero of our time acting to end modern slavery.”
The remuneration aspect is, of course, crucial. “We pay them for what they make, not what we sell,” Mymin-Kahn notes. “So we are constantly running after funding ourselves. Some of the revenue comes from sales of products, and from workshops and events, such as coffee ceremonies and crochet sessions. The rest comes from donations.”
The exhibition is on from January 25 to February 1. For more information visit and