A surprisingly affecting group show, "Way Down in New Orleans" memorializes the Crescent City's Hurricane Katrina travails. Dread Scott's elegiac installation -- posters of Katrina dead plastered on massive sheets of plywood of the kind used to protect storm-threatened homes -- marks the show's emotional center. Yet even the simplest print collage depicting a utility pole notched with past flood heights (Katrina tops a catastrophic 1849 levee breach) proves mournful.
MARLOWE PARKER was locked up in Angola Prison when the hurricanes came. His family was out there in the wind and water, and his only connection was the TV. So he painted from it.
Skylar Fein had moved to New Orleans six weeks before the hurricanes. After they let him back in, he gathered wooden debris from the streets; soon, he was making art in his backyard amid the devastation.
Photographer Aubrey Edwards was in New York when they hit. She came down as soon as she could, making portraits for impacted families "or anyone who needed a break from the rebuilding." She was soon working with the Kid Camera Project, a group providing therapy by giving Katrina-scarred children cameras — and creative outlets.
Now, Edwards is curating "Way Down in New Orleans," an art show about Katrina and Rita at Civilian Art. Including the work of Fein, Parker and 30-odd others, the show brings a compr
ehensive view of the hurricanes' devastation to D.C.
"It was three years ago, but the city is not close to fixed," she says, and it shows — there's a powerless, horrified undertone to the art. Take Miranda Lake's encaustic paintings of colorful birds swarming above shanties: pleasing to the eye, almost hopeful, but brooding and dark.
Edwards set out to "celebrate [New Orleans'] renaissance, but also to understand where this rebirth came from," and it's this mixture of optimism and the post-hurricane "ominous, dark, haunting energy" that gives the show power.
"Way Down" also reflects a drive to create art that Edwards chalks up to the devastating effect of Katrina on life's routines. Most of the artists she chose aren't art-world celebrities — she bought the work of Parker at a prison rodeo.
It's "the show I've wanted to have since opening [the gallery]," says Civilian director Jayme McLellan. She's using it to raise money for the Kid Camera Project, which still provides New Orleans children with therapeutic photo instruction today.
"I worked with one little guy named Joe, who'd just turned 4. He had this big SLR in his hands, photographing his aunt on a motorcycle down in the Seventh Ward," says Edwards. "It's amazing to see how [children] are given this power behind the camera, and their confidence and skill."
After a year and a half of assembling "Way Down," Hurricane Gustav struck New Orleans just before the show's opening. "There are always gonna be hurricanes," says Edwards.
Showing just days after the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Way Down in New Orleans unites an array of New Orleans-based artists with other artists nationwide, including:
Marc Bianchi, Brice Bischoff,
Kyle Bravo & Jenny Leblanc,
Chin Music Press,
Kid Camera Project,
Leo McGovern & Jason Reeves,
Neighborhood Story Project,
New Orleans Craft Mafia,
Matthew Bonifacio Rodriguez,
Beth Schindler & Summer Bethea,
David Wingo and