New Orleans Mourned ... and Reborn
OCTOBER 31, 2005
Design and concept by ALEX KAHN and SOPHIA MICHAHELLES
Producing Director for VHP..........JEANNE FLEMING
Contributing Artist..........JOEL GRIFFITH
Music..........THE REBIRTH BRASS BAND
New Orleans Coordinator ..........ADA HAHN
Technical Support..........MAURA GAHAN and MICHELE MICHAHELLES
In September 2005, Hurricane Katrina precipitated the sudden diaspora of an entire urban culture. The birthplace of Jazz and a reknowned Carnival tradition lay in ruins, as thousands of refugees found themselves scattered in shelters across the country. The Village Halloween Parade offered evacuees stranded in New York a way to reunite and celebrate their city in the Parade, which had often been called "New York's Carnival". For the occasion SCM designed giant lanterns depicting the unique architectural landscape of the city, beginning with the Preservation Hall jazz club. The New Orleans community responded immediately. They first requested additional lantern images, such as the Magnolia Housing Projects, then asked SCM to make a symbolic coffin, so they could stage a full-on Jazz Funeral in the midst of the Parade. To dance in the wake of death is an act of defiance and resilience, and the Jazz Funeral embodies the cathartic oppositions of Carnival, mourning even as it celebrates. On Halloween Night, revellers carried the lanterns aloft on their shoulders, playing the dual role of pall-bearers and rescuers, bearing up their city's landmarks as if above the rising floodwaters. In addition, dozens of dispossessed New Orleans natives joined the procession, wielding the customary black-fringed umbrellas and dancing the traditional steps of the "mainliners"and "secondliners" to the rhythms of the Rebirth Brass Band. Finally, soaring high above the ceremonies was the Giant Phoenix puppet, reprising the message of rebirth it first brought to New York after 9/11.
Although this procession's message was tied closely to a specific set of current events, it still resonates today when one considers how little progress has been made in New Orleans. The Magnolia Projects still stand empty, as urban planning initiatives are preventing, rather than enabling, the return of low-income families to the city. A fraction of promised Federal housing aid has been disbursed, though Convention Centers and professional sports arenas have reopened with much fanfare. FEMA's failures have scarcely been addressed, and the city is hardly better fortified against flooding than it was in 2005. New Orleans Mourned . . . and Reborn, which had been a assertion of resilience and hope in the weeks after Katrina, has now become a call to remember and a critique of the current administration's criminal negligence in New Orleans and beyond.
Elements from New Orleans Mourned . . .and Reborn are included in the exhibition MAS: Process to Procession, Sept 12 - October 20, 2007 at Rotunda Gallery, Brooklyn NY