Sunday, May 20, 2018

Nola Tricentennial Black Art at Stella Jones

Comprised of over 60 works, this sprawling expo at Stella Jones offers a multifaceted view of centuries of history as interpreted by over two dozen black artists. The title is actually Made (in) Louisiana with the “in” scratched out to signify that these works reflect local sensibilities even if the artists are based  elsewhere. What we see reflects a range of subjective and objective views that fuse official histories with poetic sensibilities. In that sense, Nola aritst EPaul Julien's portrait of Toussaint L'Ouverture, above, is emblematic, not simply because he was Haiti's greatest revolutionary leader against French colonial rule, but also because France's savage response caused much of Haiti's Afro-Creole professional class to emigrate to Nola where they doubled the city's population by 1810, cementing our cultural identity as North America's most Caribbean city. Related history turns up in Jamaican painter Patrick Waldemar's portrait of the legendary Nola vodou priestess, Marie Laveau, whose husband, Jacques Paris, was a Haitian carpenter who fled his homeland's turmoil.

Revolution takes many forms and nola native Steve Prince's wildly expressionist block print Rosa Parks depicts the civil rights icon's powerfully peaceful resistance when told to give her seat to a white public bus passenger in 1955. But Keith Duncan somehow compresses decades of history into a single image in his colorfully evocative painting, Civil Rights Movement. The beat goes on today in various ways, for instance, in the gritty yet often celebratory scenes of African American life woven into the black and white stripes of an American flag collage by Cey Adams, above, whose graphics became part of hip hop history through his work for Def Jam Records. Closer to home, Nola sculptor Jean-Marcel St. Jacques' colorful wooden assemblage, left, made from the salvaged remains of old Treme homes evokes visions of Marie Laveau reborn as an abstract vodou modernist – a sensibility echoed in John Barnes' Field Slaves Locker Room sculpture, a kind of ad hoc spirit house on stilts. Although wildly eclectic and a tad uneven, this Stella Jones tricentennial extravaganza embodies the buoyant resilience of this region and its people in the face of sometimes daunting odds. Made Louisiana: New Orleans Tricentennial Group Exhibition, Through May 31, Stella Jones Gallery, 201 St. Charles Ave., Suite 132, 568-9050.