Sunday, January 13, 2019

Beyond Land and Sea: Binh Danh, David Knox and Jennifer Shaw at the Arsenal in the Cabildo

What do rivers, swamps and bayous have in common with people? They all meander and may migrate beyond their usual boundaries. Water and human destiny have long been linked, and the photographers featured here explore the intersection of nature and culture in this newly refurbished exhibition space in the Arsenal at the Cabildo. Among the more recent immigrants to arrive and thrive in this area are the Vietnamese who fled their war ravaged nation starting in the 1970s. Binh Danh grew up in California, but Vietnam's tropical foliage once inspired him to invent a chlorophyll-based printing process before making these more conventional color portraits of Vietnamese people in the New Orleans area where our tropical environs are conducive to growing the crops that thrived in their native land. Chlorophyll in the form of verdant green foliage still permeates these lucid views of proud Vietnamese urban farmers posed before their gardens and greenhouses as we see in “Y Bui and Kim Le of Marrero, LA,” above, an image where the local and the global coalesce in perfect harmony. In other views, most notably  in New Orleans East, icons of the Virgin Mary often appear as another commonplace subtheme.

One of the migrations often overlooked in the history books is the influx of Southerners who fled to Nola from the devastated parts of the South after the Civil War. Their energy helped build the city even as their rigid social views impacted our old laissez-faire Creole approach to racial issues. David Knox's dreamy photo-collages of Civil War scenes, for instance "Cane Field," above, evoke the apocalyptic poetics of the Civil War South in sublimely hellish imagery where Margaret Mitchell's “Gone with the Wind” meets Dante's “Inferno.”

Jennifer Shaw's ethereal photogravures on Japanese Kozo paper take us back to a flooded diluvian future in views of humanoid sea creatures where people sprout lobster-like appendages and ladies ride giant sea horses in murky tableaux where seaweed replaces familiar garden greenery – scenes that are par for the course in an initially subtle looking show that offers vivid new views of otherwise familiar history. ~Bookhardt / Between Land and Sea: Recent Work by Binh Danh, Jennifer Shaw and David Knox, Curated by Constance Lewis; Through March 31, The Arsenal at the Cabildo, 701 Chartres St., 568-6968.