This past weekend we, as Americans, collectively celebrated our independence. Here in New Orleans, a significantly smaller population gathered the following day to solemnly honor those whose independence was violently stripped through the institution of slavery. Meanwhile, this editor was in New York, bearing witness to Kara Walker's damning and delirious presentation of the selfsame history through her monstrous mammy sphinx and attendant molasses boys. There I was, struggling to keep my cool while hundreds of people snapped and selfied their way through centuries of pain, when a strange and melancholic noise rang out—that of a saxophone and the unmistakable notes of Gershwin's famous interpretation of "negro" fortitude, Summertime. What followed could only be termed an intervention—a spoken word battle between a selection of poets known as Poets in Unexpected Places (P.U.P.) and Walker's sculptures. The group—I only saw black women—spoke truth to power, literally, directing their words as much to any audience present, as to the history both represented and reenacted in the Domino Sugar Factory that closing Sunday. When they finished, I couldn't even bring myself to clap. To do so would have been to suggest that they were there to entertain the crowd when, in fact, what they provided was a much needed education.
It is with this weekend in mind that we bring our "30 Americans in New Orleans" coverage to a close with our final grouping of responses. Though the show has come and gone from the city, the questions, the provocations, and the contradictions it contained stay with us. We reignite this coverage, fittingly, with a recording by local poet Infinity (Darel Joseph) composed in response to her visit to "30 Americans."
Cameron Shaw is the Executive Director and Founding Editor of Pelican Bomb.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Infinity (Darel Joseph) is a poet and visual artist. She is an MFA student at the University of New Orleans.**
“30 Americans” was on view through June 15 at the Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp Street) in New Orleans.