The artists of Matènwa are divided into groups, each of which practices a different technique to create a variety of products.
Each scarf, made of white, hemmed 100% silk, is stretched tight on a frame and laid over an original pattern. The entire pattern is hand-copied onto the translucent silk in light pencil then retraced with a clear, washable liquid resist and laid in the sun to dry. Once dry, silk paint is carefully brushed between the lines of resist (this is where mistakes can easily get made from a slipped brush to a landing chicken.) The colors are heat-set by hand with charcoal-filled irons, then the resist is washed away to reveal a white, un-dyed line between each color. Each scarf takes an artist 2 days from start to finish. The designs are drawn from daily life, traditional spiritual symbols, and flora and fauna.
Meticulously beaded and sequined flags called “Drapo” are one of the only visual art forms to have sprung from Haiti’s roots in West Africa. Art Matènwa’s drapo artists spend two to three weeks to complete a large piece one bead and one sequin at a time. We make formal images based on spiritual traditions and events and smaller, more practical objects. At the heart of drapo-making is Vodou, brought from enslaved Africans to the Caribbean. Vodou is an ancient religion that engages a complex pantheon of deities and ancestors, each with their own needs, rituals and symbols. Sewn originally from scavenged materials to bear the symbols of specific gods, the glittering drapo were carried in processions or worn by dancers to draw the presence of the lwa into the room.
When, decades back, the manufacture of cheap clothing took over Haitian industry, women as well as men worked the factories. There, many learned to hand-embroider details and embellishments on fabric and passed the skill down to their daughters. Art Matènwa took those basic skills, used once to decorate simple hems, and helped expanded them into bold, picturesque tableaus of everyday life. The artists embroider pillow shams and bright handbags as well as frame-able art.
The original printmaking class began with linoleum and silk screening techniques. We have graduated to hand-stenciled and embossed products or original drawings that, while just as fresh, require less hard–to-find equipment. The printmaking artists create a variety of elegant cards as well as a series of colorful “Thank You” flags inspired by a set of Tibetan prayer flags which, it is said, send its wishes up to the universe with every breeze.