Sunday, January 10, 2016

Noirlinians at McKenna; Working the Wetlands at LeMieux

Multiculturalism is a controversial buzz word, but New Orleans was always multicultural--a strange, swampy place where very different cultures initially clashed, but then somehow merged. Two art shows suggest how our diverse ingredients simmered into a rich gumbo. The McKenna Museum features photographs by four young contributors to Mwende Katwiwa and Denisio Truitt's Afro-fashion blog "Noirlinians." Of Kenyan and Liberian parentage, respectively, Kataiwa and Truitt found in New Orleans a new home that they celebrate in words and images that seamlessly integrate their cultural anthropology-tinged fashionista sensibilities with the densely textured culture of their adopted city. In Asia-Vinae Palmer's photo, Rich Roots, top, Kataiwa and Truitt appear at an abandoned 7th Ward house, an unlikely setting where the subtle visual affinities between the lacy fabrics and the lacy foliage and ironwork intermingle. Danielle C. Miles' photos blend seamlessly into corner store streetlife, while LaToya Edwards' photo-collages suggest latter day Victorian silhouettes even as Patrick Melon's starkly sculptural images recall the profound influence of African art on modernism as we see in Two Young Women Sharing a Laugh, above.

Aron Belka, at LeMieux, paints crisply monumental views of longtime Louisianians and more recent arrivals whose lives are based in and around the wetlands and surrounding waters. The wetlands have long provided shelter to Cajuns, pirates and anyone rugged enough to endure their swampy uncertainties -- a ruggedness seen in T-Rod, Belka's view of a craggy- faced fisherman, scanning the horizon like a latter-day Ahab. Belka's sharply etched fishing boats mingle realism with the romantic aura of their setting, while his New Orleans East Market Woman looks almost indistinguishable from her similarly attired kin back in Vietnam. But Asians are hardly new here, having lived in our wetlands ever since Malay mutineers from Spanish galleons settled in St. Malo, a St. Bernard Parish village  established by rebel slave leader Jean St. Malo in the 18th century. It was the oldest Asian community in America when it was swept away by the hurricane of 1915. ~Bookhardt / Noirlinians: Photography by Danielle Miles, Asia Vinae Palmer, LaToya Edwards and Patrick Melon, Through Jan. 30, McKenna Museum of African American Art, 2003 Carondelet St., 586-7432; Working the Wetlands: Paintings by Aron Belka, Through Jan. 30, LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522.5988.