«Nations» is a project that Kapwani Kiwanga first imagined during a residency she made in Hai?ti in 2009. Being able to attend a vodou ceremony, she was deeply struck by the syncretism of this religion, and by the various rituals and devotional objects used for these ceremonies. Vodou originated in what is now Benin Republic and developed in the French colonial empire in the 18th century among West African peoples who were enslaved, when African religious practice was actively suppressed, and enslaved Africans were forced to convert to Christianity. Religious practices of contemporary Vodou are descended from, and closely related to, West African Vodun as practiced by the Fon and Ewe. Vodou also incorporates elements and symbolism from other African peoples including the Yoruba and Kongo; as well as Tai?no religious beliefs, Roman Catholicism, and European spirituality including mysticism and other influences.
Through this new project, Kapwani Kiwanga extends her previous research concerning the continuity between spiritual belief and politics that she has dealt with in previous artworks such as IFA Organ (2013) or Maji Maji (2014). In the series «Nations», Kiwanga develops this reflection around Haitian vodou, especially its syncretic nature which the artist translates formally with three sculptural works made up of set of bead and sequin fabric flags. The flag has a double meaning in this series. On one hand it refers to nationstates which use the flag as an emblem. Besides, flags also hold a specific place in the voodoo cultural system. The combination of these two meanings allows the artists to stress the crucial role of voodoo in the creation of the Haitian republic. It is indeed with the voodoo rites of the Bois-Cai?man ceremony in August 1791 that the Hai?tan revolution started and led to the establishment of the first black republic in the world.
Kiwanga continues to explore the relationship between states and the emancipation of dominated people in the process of political independance. For the «Nations» project, Kiwanga used and transformed fragments of images from European paintings created between 1840 and 1976 and illustrating the Haitian revolution. She then comisioned to Haitian craftswomen to reinterpret them by using traditional sewing technique.
«Nations» could be realised with the precious collaboration of the Haitian craftwomen team of Jean-Basptiste Jean Joseph and Franc?oise Hazel, who used ancestral beadworks technics to make some parts of the embroidered fabrics.