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Mermaid Chair

Jacques, Mecene
wood and cloth
National Origin:
Haitian American
The object is a carved wooden chair in the likeness of a mermaid. The chair sits like a tripod, with two legs and an extended splat for the third leg. Three pieces of wood along with the legs and splat is joined to form the apron. The bracket support for the upholstered padding is constructed from 5 pieces of wood, channeled and keyed together, and screwed to the apron. Splat is constructed from 7 pieces of veneer that starts from the feet to the top crest. The cushion consists of a shell motif fabric upholstered on a stripe padding.
In Haiti much of the meaning of the mermaid comes from the religious symbolism and belief system of Vodun, a religion with its origins in West Africa. Despite the predominance of Yoruba religious traditions, Vodun actually integrates traditions from several different African cultures. In addition there is a conspicuous Roman Catholic influence, most easily seen in the pairing of Catholic saints with West African gods. Vodun recognizes several gods or "saints," each with distinct attributes, and associated with discrete colors and foods. Each saint also has several identities, usually both male and female.
The mermaid (or la sirèn) is most often associated with the goddess Ezili or Erzuli, who takes on several different identities. Sometimes she is Ezili Freda, who can be seen as a beautiful and engaging young woman. She has other incarnations where she is called by other names; then she can be hideous and destructive, even dangerous. Ezili also frequently takes the shape of a mermaid, who either protects fishermen, swimmers, boaters, and others on the water, or else causes them to drown.
In this carved chair, one sees all the elements of the beautiful Ezili Freda--her sexuality and her sensuousness. One can also see the evidence of her mixed-race--her long flowing black hair, the fullness of her hips, and the classic African pose with arms akimbo, i.e., with hands on hips.
Accession Number:
See more items in:
Mecene Jacques Collection
Anacostia Community Museum Collection
Data Source:
Anacostia Community Museum

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