Changing Course: Reflections on New Orleans Histories marks the 2018 New Orleans Tricentennial by bringing together a group of seven contemporary art projects that focus on forgotten or marginalized histories of the city. Projects by artists Katrina Andry, Willie Birch, Lesley Dill, Skylar Fein, L. Kasimu Harris, The Everyday Projects and The Propeller Group each shed light on the past while also looking towards the future, returning to defining moments in New Orleans’ history that continue to frame art and life in the city today. Reflecting on how these histories have shaped our responses to present-day issues and concerns, the included projects also consider how returning to the past can help spur evolution and change, and make a lasting positive impact on the city. During a year of celebration and remembrance, Changing Course invites the city to consider how the act of commemoration can also be a form of forward thinking: a rejoinder to the present that might also change the course of things to come.
Katrina Andry’s large-scale woodblock prints address questions of racial and economic disparity and the uneven urban development in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Her new project for Changing Course considers the impact that past infrastructure projects, such as the construction of I-10, had on historically African American neighborhoods in the city. Lesley Dill’s Hell Hell Hell / Heaven Heaven Heaven: Encountering Sister Gertrude Morgan (2010) pays tribute to the vital legacy of visionary New Orleans artist, preacher and poet Sister Gertrude Morgan. Skylar Fein’s installation Remember the Upstairs Lounge (2008) meditates on the 1973 arson at the Upstairs Lounge, a popular gay bar in the French Quarter, a crime whose unsolved nature still reverberates across LGBTQ communities in the city. L. Kasimu Harris’s War on the Benighted (2015-present) places Black History at the center of a visual narrative that complicates stereotypes of youth, race and criminality. Harris produced this series in collaboration with New Orleans schoolchildren in order to reflect on the history of public education in the city. The Propeller Group’s video The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music (2014) offers a powerful meditation on the cyclical nature of time and history, drawing points of connection between real and fantastical funerary rituals of South Vietnam as well as the cultural traditions of Vietnamese communities in New Orleans.
Two additional project components offer spaces for reflection about how these New Orleans histories impact different communities across the city, and spur conversations about how we might use art to shape the city’s future. Willie Birch’s installation will frame an evolving discussion platform at NOMA, one that also refers museum visitors to associated artwork and performances staged offsite at a community driven arts-space Birch is creating in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward. The Everyday Projects, a collective of photojournalists who use social media platforms to combat media-driven representations of communities worldwide, will bring their Pulitzer Center-sponsored curriculum to New Orleans. In collaboration with NOMA and the New Orleans Photo Alliance, this outreach program seeks to encourage participants to use photography to share their unique perspectives on life in their neighborhoods throughout Greater New Orleans.
Changing Courseis organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art and is supported by Pia and Malcolm Ehrhardt, Stewart and Renee Peck, Cathy and Morris Bart, Dathel and Tommy Coleman, and David Workman.
Changing Course marks the first major museum exhibition for New Orleans based artist Katrina Andry, a printmaker whose large-scale woodblock prints offer incisive commentary on contemporary social issues surrounding race, class and social justice. For this exhibition, NOMA has commissioned Andry to create a a site-specific installation that addresses the uneven urban development in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Her project will connect the city’s rapid and sometimes controversial recent evolution to more historical examples of redevelopment, combining imagery and text drawn from documentary materials such as maps and development plans with her own imagery and designs. Focusing particularly on the impact of construction and infrastructural development projects such as the creation and expansion of the Interstate 10 elevated expressway, which leveled a prominent middle-class African American neighborhood in the city, her installation, Diverge Divest Deny (repeat), sheds light on the lingering ramifications of such projects on African American communities across New Orleans.