Myrlande Constant: The Work of Radiance provides an introduction to Constant’s 30-year practice. On view at UCLA’s Fowler Museum and co-curated by Katherine Smith and Jerry Philogene, the retrospective is the first solo exhibition at a US museum centered on a Haitian woman. Born in Port-au-Prince, Constant worked in a factory that produced beaded wedding dresses for American and European markets. It was there that she learned tambour embroidery, a technique that uses a hooked needle on tightly stretched fabric. When low wages forced her to quit, Constant tried her hand at drapos, sequined flags used during Vodou ceremonies to call forth the lwas. Though inspired by the drapo tradition, Constant also extends beyond it, creating maximalist scenes teeming with cultural, historical, personal, and mystical meanings. From afar, her flags resemble ornate paintings, her shimmering beads densely affixed to the fabric like thick swirls of acrylic.
The exhibition is loosely organized around Constant’s explorations of divine figures, rituals, and history. After introducing earlier works like the floral Still life (1995), the exhibition charts Constant’s experimentation with the drapo form, as her flags grow more intricate, both in size and subject matter. In addition to straightforward portraits of lwas like Erzulie Dantor (1995-2020), and historical figures like Cathine Flon (Catherine Flon, 2011), she began depicting scenes in which ordinary people interact with Vodou spirits and Catholic saints as they experience weddings, funerals, healings, and other aspects of living. Rasanbleman Soupe Tout Eskòt Yo (2019) revisions The Last Supper through the lens of Vodou, recasting Jesus’s final meal as a ceremonial gathering bringing together animals, humans, and lwas. In Haitian Kreyòl, rasanblaj or rasanbleman, is defined as an assembly or convening of different thoughts that involves, according to scholar Gina Athena Ulysse, a “regrouping (of ideas, things, spirits).” From this regrouping, new relations emerge. Rasanbleman captures the dynamism of this communion—there are no hierarchies here. Worshippers and spirits share verdant space, breaking bread together while surrendering to the rhythms of the drums and flutes.