The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp
Prospect Art Triennial in New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina was one of the most devastating natural disasters in the history of the United States. New Orleans was hit particularly hard. Due to the massive destruction and the city’s unfavorable geographic location, there were even calls to relinquish the metropolis. But the residents of “The Big Easy” did not give up and began rebuilding. Artists and curators also played a part. In 2008, just three years after Katrina, Dan Cameron initiated the Prospect triennial in an effort to revive New Orleans’ cultural life. He was successful. Today, it is one of the most important regular art exhibitions in the USA. The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp is the title of the current installment. The image of a lotus blossoming in mud alludes to Buddhist spirituality, according to which something beautiful can emerge even under the most difficult of circumstances.

As always, the triennial is closely connected with the city’s special identity: its diverse cultural landscape, its location on the Mississippi Delta, and its colonial history. This time there is a special focus on music. John Akomfrah’s new video work Precarity tells the story of the New Orleans-born bandleader Charles “Buddy” Bolden. He was the city’s most popular musician at the beginning of the twentieth century and regarded as the “inventor” of jazz. On account of an alcohol-related psychosis, he was committed to a psychiatric hospital in 1907, where he remained until his death in 1930. In elegiac images, Akomfreh tells the story of legendary “King Bolden,” repeatedly setting it in relation to his home city.

Another famous son of New Orleans, Louis Armstrong, is also represented in the show. The exhibition presents a selection of collages created by the jazz trumpet player. Unfortunately, Kataswof Karavan, a joint contribution by Kara Walker and jazz pianist Jason Moran, will only be finished toward the end of the triennial. The sound sculpture will be installed in Algiers Point, a neighborhood where slaves arriving from Africa were once penned in before being sold in the French Quarter. As in Walker’s silhouettes in the Deutsche Bank Collection, the artist devotes herself to one of the darkest chapters in American history, which still has repercussions today.

New Orleans creole culture, mingling European, Indian, and African influences, also figures prominently at this year’s Prospect. Darryl Montana’s fantastic Mardi Gras costumes document links between African Americans and Native Americans. Montana was a chief of Yellow Pocahontas, a Mardi Gras Indian tribe. These African-American Carnival organizations were inspired by indigenous American culture. The contribution by South African artist Penny Siopis, in turn, points to surprising parallels between Zulu warrior culture and Carnival culture in New Orleans. Part of her installation is a video in which Louis Armstrong interprets a South African folk song. Fields of Sight, a joint project of the Indian photographer Gauri Gill and an illustrator from the Warli tribe, Rajesh Vangad. A work from this series was recently purchased for the Deutsche Bank Collection. Fields of Sight not only unites two different media, but also very different artistic languages and traditions. It is works like these that best embody the multicultural spirit of the Prospect triennial.

Prospect 4. The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp
at 17 different sites in New Orleans
Until February 25, 2018