Working on reconstruction projects in New Orleans always leaves me feeling somewhat pensive and conflicted. The first time I was in New Orleans post-Katrina was in December of 2006, fifteen months after the storm. I went down to offer up my skills as a drywaller, house gutter and cook. I saw it as being a learning experience as well. I’ve never had to face the bigotry, poverty and institutionalized racism that contributed so greatly to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of poor black New Orleans neighbourhoods, and part of me wanted to challenge my view of the world by seeing its impacts up close.
I found myself feeling rather wary about staying in the city’s Lower 9th Ward, a historically working-class black neighbourhood. I felt like an outsider, a privileged university student who doesn’t have to deal with the everyday frustrations and tribulations of their lives let alone all the problems caused by the storm. I don’t have to worry about a rickety-looking levee crumbling and washing away my livelihood.
I also found myself thinking a bit about street art and its entry into both popular culture and the mainstream art world. Despite the anonymity of streetart, how much do colour and gender barriers still play a role in who gets noticed or who sells? It’s inspiring seeing streetart and graffiti becoming a truly international art movement and non-North American artists (such as Os Gemeos and Jace) getting noticed.
But I remember flipping through a newspaper last year and seeing two stories on adjoining pages- one of which was about how a Banksy piece on the side of a house sold for a record amount, while the other was about the unexplained death in police custody of a black youth arrested for spraypainting.
And that’s what I keep coming back to.
Turns out I just stumbled onto some old Swap Box pictures I hadn’t seen before, from Knitnut… I’m starting to select pictures for my yet-untitled streetart book, and some of these might just make it in.
Inside the box Larger pic