According to Sandra Renteria, owner of Indigena Gallery, Denver is finally ready for Vodou art -- readier, in fact, than she ever could have imagined. She first arrived in the Mile High City from Florida, where Haitian art is far more commonplace and, therefore, understood. But she once feared that here in the hinterlands, people might have the wrong picture: a negative vision filled with shrunken heads, chicken blood, pin-pricked dolls and gruesome live offerings. How would uneducated folks respond to colorful bottles stuffed with dolls? Would they take to folkloric spiritual imagery stitched sequin by sequin onto a Vodou flag? What was a folk-art maven to do?
Renteria also heads the non-profit Art Creation Foundation for Children, an organization that creates opportunities for Haitian orphans. Once in Denver, she dug right in, opening her tiny shop off the beaten track on a northwest Denver side street, where her operating hours were largely determined by those of Sabor Latino, the restaurant next door. When she wasn't watching the storefront, she tramped all over town with her Haitian wares, visiting local designers.
"I needed to find out if anyone here even liked indigenous folk art, and they did," she says. "I was very conservative at first, because I didn't want to offend anyone. But after being in the market for five months, I found I could be edgier about what I presented. And the edgier I got, the better I did. I couldn't believe it. Slowly, the real Vodou bottles and flags came out. The more I've taken a chance on Denver, the more Denver's rewarded me."
Now it's time to step up. Renteria's following the traffic and making a big move to the burgeoning eclectic retail enclave at 44th Avenue and Tennyson Street, where she's setting up shop -- a much more spacious one -- in a rented bungalow at 4320 Tennyson. On First Friday, she'll host an opening reception featuring African drummers and a wealth of Haitian art.
Are you ready? Renteria is: "Vodou art is about moving with the spirits, and that's what I'm doing -- moving all my Vodou spiritual artwork to a new location."