EPAUL JULIEN | Review: Made in Louisiana at Stella Jones Gallery
This sprawling expo of more than 60 works at Stella Jones Gallery offers a multifaceted view of centuries of history as interpreted by more than 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, New Orleans aritst Epaul Julien's portrait of Toussaint L'Ouverture (pictured) 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 New Orleans, 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 Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, whose husband, Jacques Paris, was a Haitian carpenter who fled his homeland's protracted turmoil.
Revolution takes many forms, and New Orleans native Steve Prince's wildly expressionistic block print Rosa Sparks depicts the civil rights icon's powerfully peaceful resistance when told to give her seat on a public bus to a white 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, whose graphics became part of hip-hop history through his work for Def Jam Recordings. Closer to home, sculptor Jean-Marcel St. Jacques' colorful wooden assemblages made from the salvaged remains of old Treme homes evoke visions of Marie Laveau reborn as an abstract Voodoo modernist — a sensibility echoed in John Barnes' Field Slave's 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.
Through May. Stella Jones Gallery, 201 St. Charles Ave., Suite 132, (504) 568-9050;
Epaul Julien art,Toussaint Louverture, New Orleans