Multiculturalism is a controversial buzzword, but New Orleans was always multicultural — a strange, swampy place where very different cultures initially clashed but somehow merged. Two art shows suggest how our diverse ingredients simmered into a rich gumbo. The George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art features photographs by four young contributors to Mwende Katwiwa and Denisio Truitt's Afro-fashion blog Noirlinians. Of Kenyan and Liberian parentage, respectively, Katwiwa and Truitt found a new home in New Orleans, which they celebrate in words and images that seamlessly integrate their fashion sensibilities with the densely textured culture of their adopted city.
In Asia-Vinae Palmer's photo, Rich Roots (pictured), Katwiwa and Truitt appear at an abandoned 7th Ward house, an unlikely setting where the subtle visual affinities between the lacy fabrics and the lacy foliage and ironwork are highlighted. Danielle C. Miles' photoshoots are woven seamlessly into local corner store street life, while LaToya Edwards' photo-collages suggest latter-day Victorian silhouettes, and Patrick Melon's starkly sculptural images recall the profound influence African art has on modernism.
At LeMieux Galleries, Aron Belka paints crisply monumental views of longtime Louisianans and more recent arrivals whose lives and livelihoods are based in and around the wetlands and surrounding waters. The wetlands have long provided shelter to Cajuns, pirates and anyone rugged enough to endure their swampy uncertainties — a ruggedness seen in T-Rod, Belka's view of a craggy-faced fisherman, gazing at the horizon like a modern Ahab. Belka's sharply rendered fishing boats mingle realism with the romantic aura of their setting, while his market women in New Orleans East appear indistinguishable from their similarly dressed kin in Vietnam. But Asians hardly are new here, having lived in the wetlands ever since Malay mutineers from Spanish galleons settled in St. Malo, a St. Bernard Parish maroon community established by rebel slave leader Jean St. Malo in the 18th century.