Sunday, June 6, 2010

Where They At: New Orleans Bounce in Words and Pictures at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

As an exploration of New Orleans bounce and hip-hop, the Ogden Museum’s WHERE THEY AT is a striking photography and text presentation that works on several levels. Beyond its value as cultural anthropology, it also offers insights into the intricacies of local music culture (see Will Coviello’s “Representing Bounce” feature in the April 19th issue of Gambit), but how does it stack up as visual art? Some of the Ogden’s more conservative visitors were overheard muttering that they didn’t think it belonged in a museum. In fact, documentary and street photography have long inspired such responses. Not everyone can see beyond the raucous façade, but Aubrey Edwards’ photographs hark to the unvarnished candor of Danny Lyon’s stark biker portraits or Larry Clark’s studies of the domestic life of Middle American junkies in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In like manner, Edwards and Fensterstock take us to the remote back streets and clubs where colorful characters like Mia X, DJ Jimi and Big Freedia can be observed on their home turf.

MIA X, MOTHER OF SOUTHERN HIP-HOP, above, is an iconic image of the sassy, jazzy godmother of the idiom coyly glancing out from the billowing contours of a composition that is a blend of darkly luminous Caravaggio lighting and streetwise insouciance. Many others are more candid but no less artful, at least as far as the women such as MAGNOLIA SHORTY, below, and the “sissies” are concerned. “Sissy bounce” drag queen performers are a local specialty, and flamboyant images like SISSY VALENTINE'S SHOW, above, or BIG FREEDIA, depicting the beatifically beaming singer in a cloud of lavender and metallic mauve fabric, convey something of the otherworldliness of the genre. Most male performers ranging from Juvenile to Partners-N-Crime can be a tad too self-conscious, or wooden, except for the somnambulistic DJ Jimi, who somehow manages to employ narcolepsy as a dramatic device. All that and more appears in this remarkably detailed exploration of the unique parallel universe that is the New Orleans bounce scene. ~Bookhardt

WHERE THEY AT: New Orleans Bounce and Hip-Hop in Words and Pictures by Aubrey Edwards and Allison Fensterstock--Through July
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600, www.ogdenmuseum.org.