College of Liberal Arts

Art Galleries at Black Studies Presents: "Lingua Franca"

Wed, Sep 4, 2019
A Voudou flag by Myrlande Constate. Image courtesy of AGBS.
A Voudou flag by Myrlande Constate. Image courtesy of AGBS.

From Hatian Voudou flags to surrealists prints and paintings, “Lingua Franca: Black Spirit Speaks in Common Tongues,” on view now at the Idea Lab, exposes the deep and shared roots of African spiritual culture across the black diaspora. 

The exhibit features work by artists throughout the Global South from the collection of Rudy Green and Joyce Christian. Despite difference in geography, each artist explores themes of ancestral connection and mysticism, emphasizing their shared history. Practices such as Voudou and Obeah act as a common language — lingua franca — serving as a conduit to discuss themes of the divine, daily-life colonialism and histories of the black Atlantic. 

“Using Haitian Vodou flags as a point of departure, ‘Lingua Franca’ is a look at the way that African spiritual cultural retention presents in artwork across the black diaspora,” writes Natalie Willis, the exhibit’s curator and the Tilting Axis Curatorial Fellow. “Voudou, Obeah, African American Spirituals and colonial Christian histories across the black Atlantic share more in common than the differences that make them so unique — and so, too, do the people with a shared history.” 

Featured artists include Myrlande Constant, Wifredo Lam and John Yancey, among many others. Constant, a Haitian artist, is known as a creative force among the world of Voudou flagmakers, who are mostly men, for her use of bright cylindrical beads to create dense, ornate designs. Lam, an Afro-Cuban artist with a recent 2017 retrospective at the Tate Modern, has been championed as one of the most renowned artists of the 20th century. And Yancey, an Austin-based artist and UT Austin art professor known for his landmark mural on East 11th Street, “Rhapsody,” is recognized across the nation for his paintings and community-based public art works.

The diverse selection of artwork and artists seeks to dispel sensationalized representations of Voudou and other African diasporic spiritualities. When describing the Haitian Voudou flags, which can use as many as 20,000 sequins or beads in a single work, Willis offers that the artworks “are so full of care and beauty that it’s hard to connect the gross misunderstandings with them.”

A central feature of Black Studies’ art and archive initiative, the Art Galleries at Black Studies (AGBS) displays and collects art, archival materials and special collections relating to the black experience and beyond. As centers for key AGBS exhibitions and important conversations, the Christian-Green Gallery and the Idea Lab honor the significant role of the black diaspora’s creative expression in the struggle for social justice.

“Lingua Franca: Black Spirit Speaks in Common Tongues” will be on display in the Idea Lab, housed in the Gordon-White Building, through November 30. Plan your visit Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

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