Freemasons are a worldwide group often surrounded by a secretive reputation, with a membership of influential members of local society. A non-religious and non-political group, in more recent years Freemasonry has become less active, or has alternatively become more open to a wider community. However, in Haiti, Freemasonry continues to grow in its traditional sense, and has been captivatingly documented by multimedia artist, Leah Gordon.
In completing the project Leah worked with Katherine Smith, an American scholar and visiting assistant arts professor at NYU. “Freemasonry thrives in contemporary Haiti, and its visual world pervades Haitian life,” Katherine tells It’s Nice That. “A handful of symbols recur throughout Leah’s work: the all-seeing eye, the compass and square, and the coffin. These Masonic signs once tethered a web of ideas that stretched across the Atlantic world, encrypting the most precious values of the Enlightenment: truth, reason, justice. This visual language connected men of enterprise and influence across the globe with the sinews of brotherhood. While Freemasonry has declined in much of the world, Haitian society has sustained those bonds in microcosm.”
Leah’s photographs, a mix of black and white and colour, display the Freemasonry locations in Haiti. The venues are often almost empty, painted blue or red with chalk-drawn symbolism on walls and boards. Handmade sculptures, regularly representing the Freemasonry triangle shape are shown. However, despite the confidential content of their meetings, the Freemason members appear friendlier than you might have previously imagined in their always impeccable dress.
“Gordon’s photographs offer a glimpse of Haiti’s urban middle class: teachers, lawyers, civil servants, midlevel merchants and small business owners, exemplars of respectability in a world invisible to most foreign observers,” explains Katherine. “Surveying these photographs reveals unexpected couplings: mysticism and civil society, secrecy and spectacle; solemnity and celebration; patriarchy and grace.”
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