Mention voodoo and it immediately conjures images of curses, zombies and other dark magic.

Those are images Iveta Pirgova is trying to combat.

Pirgova is curator of "Remembering Ginen: Haitian Vodou Bottles, Flags and Veve," an exhibit opening this weekend at the Museum of American Glass at WheatonArts in Millville.

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It's a large exhibit - to accommodate it, the museum staff emptied out the entire bottle room at the facility - and includes examples of sacred bottles that adorn Vodou altars, ceremonial rattles used in Vodou performances and the veve designs inspired by elaborate artwork traced on the floors during Vodou rituals.

"This exhibit is the first exhibit of this kind ever done in New Jersey. It's goal is to challenge some of the stereotypes people have about Vodou arts and to interpret them in the context of the Haitian culture," Pirgova said.

The exhibit also delves into Haitian history, another key component to understanding Vodou and appreciating the art associated with it, she said.

Vodou took root in Haiti during the French colonial period. It is a blend of West African belief systems aimed at connecting worshippers with spirits who will guide people and aid in human affairs.

As in other religions, the rituals have inspired artists to adorn ceremonial items and to incorporate Vodou influences in their art.

Most of the pieces in the WheatonArts exhibit are by contemporary Haitian artist Kesler Pierre. While traditional sacred bottles, which are also on display, are adorned with beads, Pierre uses paint and glitter on some of his works.

WheatonArts worked with Pierre to create glass rattles displayed in the exhibit. The rattles - known as ason - are traditionally made from gourds and adorned with beads. Pierre's are made of glass and Pierre painted the decorations on.

Pierre also is exhibiting his photographs of Vodou rituals. These photos, accompanied by explanatory panels, help those visiting the display to understand the cultural context for symbolism in the pieces.

Among the most impressive items on display are the 17 Vodou flags Wheaton has for the exhibit, Pirgova said.

"They are really masterworks," she said.

Along with the exhibition, WheatonArts also is hosting a series of workshops and presentation. These include a Nov. 9 workshop with Pierre on veve designs, a Nov. 10 presentation on Vodou flags and a Nov. 10 program of Haitian music and dance.

The WheatonArts exhibit is part of a series of major presentations on Vodou arts at arts and cultural institutions at various locales around the world. The push is aimed at overcoming misconceptions of the Haitian arts and culture. Organizers also want to inspire understanding and appreciation of Haitian creativity and artistic expressions.

"Haiti is a misunderstood country," Pirgova said. "Yes, the economy is bad, but it doesn't mean their culture and arts are bad."

Fostering understanding is the first step in changing people's voodoo-zombie stereotypes.

"Hollywood really did a lot of damage to these people, and we are really trying to overcome this now," Pirgova said. "People who have seen too many low-budget Hollywood films really have no knowledge about Vodou. If people want to learn what it is all about, they had better come to this exhibit."

Contact Steven V. Cronin:


If You Go

Remembering Ginen: Haitian Vodou Bottles, Flags and Veve held through Jan.5 at the Museum of American Glass at WheatonArts, 1501 Glasstown Road, Millville. Opening reception is 5 p.m. Friday. WheatonArts is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Admission is $10 adults, $9 seniors, $7 students. Call 856-825-6800 or visit

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