Sequined flag artist Mireille Délismé began her career in 1986 via her cousin and artistic partner Myrlande Constant, who taught her sewing and beading techniques and with whom she worked in a factory embellishing wedding gowns for export. After the factory shut down, Mireille continued to master needlework skills at home when a visit from the spirits in her dreams heralded her artistic calling.
“One night when I was sleeping, a lwa (spirit) came to me in a dream. In vodou, a widely practiced religion in my country, a lwa can often times deliver messages in the form of dreams. The next day I told my father, who was an houngan (ritual expert), about it – and he drew a picture from my description. This picture became the sequin design for my first drapo (flag) and it is from my dreams that I receive most of my inspiration for my designs.”
Mireille recounts, “I had two more dreams of different lwas that came to me. The third lwa that came delivered a very important message. The message said that I did not have to work in a factory, but that I could learn to work for myself and earn for my family. I had been working in a factory, but by the time I was 25 I had begun my life as an independent artist in the vodou tradition.”
The first drapos sold as soon as they were completed and Mireille went on to open her own atelier where she employs eight people and continues to produce beautiful, inspired works.
Since the earthquake of 2010 overturned the lives of so many in Haiti, she has joined other Haitian artists who are providing support for those around them through the making and selling of their work.
Mireille reflects: “With what earnings I can make by selling my art, I support not only my daughters, sisters, aunts, brother, and mother, but I also support my friends. After the earthquake, luckily, my home was not damaged and thank goodness none of my artwork was lost; however, I lost an aunt and a sister and still continued to support my relatives in the wake of the disaster. Fortunately, I had 10,000 Haitian gourdes that I had earned from a job the day before the earthquake, which I used towards helping those around me who were in much need. My community, family and friends in many ways can look to me for help and my artwork is crucial in their sustainability. My brother, who inherited the tradition of vodou priesthood, often uses my sequin flags in rituals and ceremonies and since my father has passed, has helped me to interpret my dreams.”
Mireille has exhibited and sold her work in Haiti, France and the United States. She spent a week as artist in residence in June 2010 at the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival Marketplace. She will be attending this year the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.
Diana Baird N’Diaye is a curator and cultural heritage policy specialist at the Smithsonian Institution, where she leads an initiative supporting Haitian artists. N’Diaye worked with translators Mireille Bernardin and Gabriella Bellegarde for this article.