Blighted housing is a conundrum: an old house that some see as an eyesore might be someone else's beloved home. Gentrification and high insurance and tax rates eliminated most of the local low-cost rentals that were available before Hurricane Katrina, even though higher values saved some great old homes from demolition by neglect. For low-income communities, the problem is especially dire. Blights Out, an organization devoted to neighborhood self-determination, staged this exhibition at Antenna Gallery, curated by Carl Joe Williams, as a catalyst for exploring blight from new social and artistic perspectives. The diverse range of work can seem baffling at first, but the artists' explanatory text panels are so poetically insightful that the words merge with the visuals into a thoughtful and cohesive installation.
Horton Humble's City That Floats Away (pictured) recalls expressionist abstraction but was inspired by Katrina: "Walking amid the debris, I felt that if I could create something meaningful, I could envision a way to rebuild." Katrina Andry's brutalist baroque brushwork evokes the lush vines covering an abandoned Mid-City house that she notes is "a fire hazard" that can "hide guns and crime." Hannah Chalew's mystical landscapes are painted on paper she made from vines culled from overgrown lots, transforming unwanted weeds into objects of value. Bottletree's The Mayor of St. Roch — a Voodoo-esque memorial shrine to St. Roch Improvement Association founder and longtime affordable housing activist Reggie Lawson — illustrates the diverse spiritual and deeply rooted cultural associations that underlie the quest for social justice in New Orleans. A mysterious found-object sculpture by Rontherin Ratliff resonates cosmic antiquity, like what a satellite launched from 19th-century Treme might have looked like. Founded in 2014 by New Orleans native Imani Jacqueline Brown, Blights Out is one of the most innovative iterations of the fusion of art and social activism that emerged in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as determined New Orleans residents banded together to defend and rebuild their city.