Changing Course: Reflections on New Orleans Histories

By New Orleans Museum of Art

Changing Course: Reflections on New Orleans Histories marked the 2018 New Orleans Tricentennial by bringing together a group of seven contemporary art projects that focused on forgotten or marginalized histories of the city. 

Entrance to Changing Course: Reflections on New Orleans Histories (2018)New Orleans Museum of Art

Across a series of seven projects by Katrina Andry, Willie Birch, Lesley Dill, Skylar Fein, L. Kasimu Harris, The Everyday Projects, and The Propeller Group, Changing Course explored how defining moments from New Orleans’ past continue to shape art and life in the city today. The exhibition framed the act of commemoration as a form of forward thinking: a rejoinder to the present that might also change the course of things to come.

Remember The UpStairs LoungeNew Orleans Museum of Art

Skylar Fein’s installation Remember the UpStairs Lounge commemorates the 1973 arson at the UpStairs Lounge, a popular gay bar in the French Quarter, offering a haunting memorial to the fire and those impacted by the tragedy.

Remember The UpStairs LoungeNew Orleans Museum of Art

Fein mines the history of the UpStairs Lounge—the site of one of the deadliest fires in New Orleans’s history— to reflect on the complex and contradictory meanings of the event, which was the largest massacre of gay men in the United States prior to the 2016 shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Remember The UpStairs LoungeNew Orleans Museum of Art

Fein’s installation examines notions of history, memory, truth and the slippages between them by including both real and fictional memorabilia of the era alongside crime scene photos and charred objects.

Remember The UpStairs LoungeNew Orleans Museum of Art

Due to lack of evidence, no one was ever convicted of the arson, which claimed 32 lives and caused countless injuries.

At the time, many believed the fire was a hate crime triggered by homophobia. Fein's installation challenges this history by acknowledging the offender was a member of the gay community. It is now widely accepted that the blaze was set by a patron who was kicked out of the bar earlier that evening.

Remember The UpStairs LoungeNew Orleans Museum of Art

The last two galleries of Fein's installation pay homage to LGBTQIA culture by recreating the posters and memorabilia at the bar...

Remember The UpStairs LoungeNew Orleans Museum of Art

...alongside replicas of New Orleans street signs that reference other places of gathering and refuge for the LGBTQIA community.

Hell Hell Hell/ Heaven Heaven Heaven: Encountering Sister Gertrude Morgan & RevelationNew Orleans Museum of Art

Lesley Dill’s installation Heaven Heaven Heaven Hell Hell Hell explores the life and work of visionary New Orleans artist, preacher and musician Sister Getrude Morgan.

Hell Hell Hell/ Heaven Heaven Heaven: Encountering Sister Gertrude Morgan & Revelation Hell Hell Hell/ Heaven Heaven Heaven: Encountering Sister Gertrude Morgan & Revelation (2010) by Lesley DillNew Orleans Museum of Art

The project sheds light on Morgan’s little-known artistic legacy, and demonstrates her shared connections with a long lineage of female writers like Emily Dickinson and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Hell Hell Hell/ Heaven Heaven Heaven: Encountering Sister Gertrude Morgan & RevelationNew Orleans Museum of Art

Dill’s work often mines the mystical writing of women artists to create immersive installations that speak to the power of the female voice.

Sister Gertrude Morgan in her Everlasting Gospel Revelation Mission, New Orleans, 1974 (1973) by Guy MendesNew Orleans Museum of Art

Sister Gertrude Morgan shared her visions with the New Orleans community in the form of music, painting, and sermons inspired by divine revelations she believed she received directly God.

Seven Last Plagues (circa 1970) by Sister Gertrude MorganNew Orleans Museum of Art

Morgan viewed her paintings as akin to her music and preaching, and often included her own writing alongside illustrations from biblical scriptures such as The Book of Revelation.

In line with her spiritual teachings, her paintings condemn earthly violence and sin, and focus on the promise of peace and tranquility that comes from closer communion with one another, and with god.

The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music (2014) by The Propeller GroupNew Orleans Museum of Art

The Propeller Group's film The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music offers a poignant reflection on Vietnamese funerary customs, exploring histories of colonization, migration, and cultural evolution through themes of life, death and rebirth.

As the film moves through raucous city streets and watery landscapes that resemble both southern Vietnam and southeast Louisiana...

...it lays bare the many historical and cultural connections that link Vietnam and New Orleans, a city that has one of the largest Vietnamese American communities in the country.

Diverge Divest Deny (repeat) Diverge Divest Deny (repeat) (2018) by Katrina AndryNew Orleans Museum of Art

Katrina Andry’s installation Diverge Divest Deny (repeat) exposes the real human toll that hides behind the romantic vision of New Orleans as a tropical paradise, exposing the systematic erasure and disenfranchisement of Black communities throughout the city's history.

Diverge Divest Deny (repeat)New Orleans Museum of Art

Andry combines hand-carved woodblock prints of verdant foliage with crumpled flower-like forms imprinted with archival imagery taken from recent urban redevelopment projects that disproportionately impacted communities of color.

North Claiborne Avenue, Showing Oaks (2018) by Joseph C. Davi,New Orleans Museum of Art

She focuses on the expansion of the Interstate 10 freeway through North Claiborne Avenue in the 1960s, which leveled the lively neutral ground of the predominantly Black neighborhood of Treme and destroyed hundreds of homes, businesses, and a thriving cultural district.

Diverge Divest Deny (repeat)New Orleans Museum of Art

Andry's installation demonstrates the devastating impact of New Orleans's divestment in many of its most historic and culturally significant neighborhoods...

Diverge Divest Deny (repeat)New Orleans Museum of Art

...and shows us the stakes surrounding urban planning, gentrification and historical preservation in New Orleans today.

Fabric, Root and Bone (2018) by Willie M. BirchNew Orleans Museum of Art

Willie Birch's installation Fabric, Root, and Bone tells both symbolic and literal stories, connecting past and present across the same region. In drawings, tapestries, and sculptural works made of root, bones, and grass, Birch references both nineteenth-century efforts by enslaved people to resist their bondage and his own twenty-first century efforts to create an art-centered community in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward.

Waiting for a Serious Conversation on the History of the South (2017) by Willie M. BirchNew Orleans Museum of Art

This drawing shows two rocking chairs, one white, one black, sitting vacant on a neighborhood porch, referencing America's empty promises to address its racial divisions, and inviting us to sit down and start the conversation.

For a Generation not yet Born: The Louisiana Slave Revolt of 1811 (2018) by Willie M. BirchNew Orleans Museum of Art

The inspiration for this tapestry, represented abstractly, is the 1811 revolt by enslaved people outside of New Orleans, one of the largest in this country. Over 500 enslaved people marched from plantations along the river towards New Orleans with plans for independence, but were violently overwhelmed by white militias.

This tapestry reads from right to left, referencing the revolt on the right...

...which flows into impressions of railroad lines woven out of grass and bone in the center...

...and then into a grayish blue expanse of fabric that evokes for the Mississippi River, which leads to an ocean of ships that call forth the history of the transatlantic slave trade.

Willie Birch’s Community Centered Art Space in Old Prieur, Seventh Ward, New Orleans (2018) by Willie M. BirchNew Orleans Museum of Art

Many elements of the installation came from a row of houses and lots at the intersection of Old Prieur and O’Reilly Streets that Birch has been remaking into a gathering space for the neighborhood with outdoor artworks and a shared garden.

Fabric, Root and Bone (2018) by Willie M. BirchNew Orleans Museum of Art

Birch produced his fabric and woven pieces with materials pulled from these lots in Old Prieur, and creates physical manifestations of the place in his drawings, exposing the city’s scarred past and showing his ongoing efforts to build human connections on the same landscape.

Fabric, Root and Bone, Community Portraits (2018) by Willie M. BirchNew Orleans Museum of Art

A collection of drawings document and represent the Old Prieur community, and evince the truly collaborative nature of the project.

War on the Benighted # 1 (2015) by L. Kasimu HarrisNew Orleans Museum of Art

L. Kasimu Harris's photographic series War on the Benighted visualizes a revolution in the classroom wherein a group of young Black students take control of their own education.

The photographs respond to contemporary debates about New Orleans’ school system, presenting a “constructed reality” in which students repossess their schools.

McDonogh Day Boycott (For Eartha), (from the "War on the Benighted" series) (2018) by L. Kasimu HarrisNew Orleans Museum of Art

This photograph explores the history behind an annual segregated ceremony during which New Orleans students once laid flowers at a monument to John McDonogh, the eccentric slaveholder and benefactor of New Orleans’ public schools.

Many Black schools boycotted the ceremony following the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, a protest that continued for several years...

...and which this photograph brings into the present day.

The Struggle Begins Before School (From the "War on the Benighted" Series) (2018) by L. Kasimu HarrisNew Orleans Museum of Art

Other photographs recreate real moments in students’ everyday lives that reveal their growing frustration with education policies...

...such as mandatory busing that forces many students across the city to wake before dawn.

Race to the Top (From the "War on the Benighted" Series) (2018) by L. Kasimu HarrisNew Orleans Museum of Art

A product of New Orleans’ schools, Harris also spent some time as a teacher in the city. This allegorical work references the standardized testing systems which can determine the future of an individual student as well as an entire school...

...despite the fact that these tests remain highly contested as a measure of true educational outcomes.

. Kasimu Harris leads a discussion as part of an Everyday New Orleans workshop at Warren Eastern High School, (2018) by Roman AlokhinNew Orleans Museum of Art

For Changing Course, NOMA partnered with The Everyday Projects and the New Orleans Photo Alliance to facilitate #EverydayNewOrleans, a series of workshops on photography and storytelling. Led by NOMA’s Community Engagement Curator Nic Brierre Aziz, this program brought together a group of local photographers to lead workshops that empowered voices across the city through photography.

Here, Changing Course artist L. Kasimu Harris leads a workshop for students from Warren Easten High School.

Everyday New Orleans Workshop participants from Esperanza Charter School (2019)New Orleans Museum of Art

At each of six participating schools and community centers, workshops invited participants take pictures that represented them, their communities, and their relationship with the city.

Here, students from Esperanza Charter School learn the basic elements of photography.

Photo by Martika, Warren Easten High School (2019)New Orleans Museum of Art

Participants learned how to create their own visual narratives through photography. This photograph is by Martika, a participant in the workshop at Warren Easten High School.

Installation view of Everyday New Orleans installation in Changing Course:New Orleans Museum of Art

The art created during these workshops was printed and put on display at the museum, in addition to being shared online through the hashtag #EverydayNewOrleans.

Installation view of Everyday New Orleans installation in Changing Course: Installation view of Everyday New Orleans installation in Changing Course: (2019) by Roman AlokhinNew Orleans Museum of Art

This provided a platform for NOMA's audiences to consider how the museum can best reflect and engage diverse communities across the city. Here, Justin from Rebuild Center discusses his work at the Changing Course opening.

Credits: Story

Changing Course: Reflections on New Orleans Histories was organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art and was sponsored by Pia and Malcolm Ehrhardt, Stewart and Renee Peck, Cathy and Morris Bart, Dathel and Tommy Coleman, and David Workman.


IMAGE CREDITS:

1) Skylar Fein (American, b. 1968), Remember The UpStairs Lounge, 2008, Multimedia Installation; wood pieces screenprinted with latext, painted with acrylic, plexiglass, lights, film, paper, New Orleans Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist, 2012.86, © Skylar Fein 2018, Photography by Roman Alokhin.

2) Lesley Dill, Hell Hell Hell / Heaven Heaven Heaven: Encountering Sister Gertrude Morgan & Revelation, 2010, Mixed media installation, Dimensions variable, New Orleans Museum of Art, Gift of the artist Lesley Dill for the Arthur Roger Gallery 40th Anniversary Exhibition at NOMA, 2014.45.1, © Lesley Dill, Photography by Roman Alokhin.

3) Guy Mendes, Sister Gertrude Morgan Sitting in the Prayer Room of the Everlasting Gospel Mission, 1973, Gelatin silver print, 9 ½ x 9 ½ inches, New Orleans Museum of Art, Gift of Guy Mendes, 78.166 © Guy Mendes

4) Sister Gertrude Morgan (American, 1900-1980), Seven Last Plagues, c. 1970, Acrylic and/or tempera on weathered wood door, New Orleans Museum of Art, Gift of Preservation Hall in memory of Allan Jaffe, 2004.313

5) The Propeller Group, The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music, 2014, Single Channel Film, 3840 x 2160, 25fps, 5.1 surround sound, ca. 20 minutes, New Orleans Museum of Art. Museum Purchase, Robert Gordy Fund, 2015.64 © The Propeller Group

6) Katrina Andry, Diverge Divest Deny (repeat), 2018, Mixed media installation, Dimensions variable, Collection of the Artist, © Katrina Andry 2019, Photography by Roman Alokhin.

7) Joseph C. Davi, North Claiborne Avenue, Showing Oaks, August 29, 1968, Louisiana Division/City Archives & Special Collections

8) John Messina, Claiborne + Esplanade, 1970, Gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 inches, New Orleans Museum of Art, Gift of the Artist, 2010.91 © John Messina

9) Willie Birch (American, b. 1942), Waiting for a Serious Conversation on the History of the South, 2017, Charcoal and acrylic on paper, Courtesy of the artist © Willie Birch

10) Willie Birch (American, b.1942), For a Generation not yet Born: The Louisiana Slave Revolt of 1811, 2018 (installation), Quilted Fabric, sweet grass, bones, and cotton, 4 x 24 feet, Courtesy of the artist, © Willie Birch, Photography by Roman Alokhin.

11) Willie Birch’s Community Centered Art Space in Old Prieur, Seventh Ward, New Orleans, Courtesy of the artist © Willie Birch

12) Willie Birch, (American, b. 1942), Fabric, Root and Bone, 2018, Installation view, Courtesy of the artist, © Willie Birch, Photography by Roman Alokhin.

13) Willie Birch, (American, b. 1942), Fabric, Root and Bone, Community Portraits, 2018, Installation view, Courtesy of the artist, © Willie Birch, Photography by Roman Alokhin.

14) L. Kasimu Harris (American, b. 1978), War on the Benighted # 1, 2015 (from the War on the Benighted Series), Archival pigment print, 40 x 26 ½ inches, New Orleans Museum of Art, Gift of the artist, 2018.68 © L. Kasimu Harris

15) L. Kasimu Harris (American, b. 1978), McDonogh Day Boycott (For Eartha), 2018 (from the War on the Benighted Series),
Archival pigment print, 40 x 26 ½ inches, Collection of the Artist © L. Kasimu Harris

16) L. Kasimu Harris (American, b. 1978), The Struggle Begins Before School, 2018 (from the War on the Benighted Series), Archival pigment print, 40 x 26 inches, New Orleans Museum of Art, Gift of Cleophus Thomas Jr., 2018.55 © L. Kasimu Harris

17) L. Kasimu Harris (American, b. 1978), Race to the Top, 2018, (from the War on the Benighted Series), Archival pigment print, 40 x 32 inches, New Orleans Museum of Art, Gift of Cleophus Thomas Jr., 2018.54 © L. Kasimu Harris

18) Featured photographers from the workshop at the Rebuild Center look at their work on the wall at the New Orleans Museum of Art, Photo by Roman Alokin

19) Everyday New Orleans Workshop participants from Esperanza Charter School

20) Photo by Martika, Warren Easten High School, #EverydayNewOrleans

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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