with social justice
‘All on a Mardi Gras Day’ Follows Big Chief Demond Melancon as He Creates His Beaded Suit for the Annual Celebration
“Who are the Indians? This is the old stories that were told to me. The slaves ran away through the routes in the Underground Railroad, and the Indians gave them refuge in different spots. So the Mardi Gras Indians pay homage to them,” says Big Chief Demond Melancon at the opening of “All on a Mardi Gras Day.” The short, intimate documentary, directed by Michal Pietrzyk, follows the artist as he prepares for the annual celebration, which involves painstakingly beading the vibrant suit he’ll wear during the festival.
Melancon, who we spoke with last spring as he worked on an ongoing portrait series, is a leader of the tribe of the Young Seminole Hunters in New Orleans, the city where he was raised. Much of Pietrzyk’s film centers on place and community, describing how gentrification has pushed the artist out of his neighborhood and how his role as Big Chief turns him into a sort of father figure to some of the younger members.
“All on a Mardi Gras Day” also reveals Melancon’s immense sacrifice for and dedication to his art, from waking up before dawn and retiring well after midnight to living in a neighborhood with cheaper rent so that he can afford the beads, feathers, and other materials he needs to create his suits. As the celebration nears, he sequesters himself at home for fear of missing the parade, which once happened when he was detained by police.
Although a centuries-long tradition, Melancon is quick to point out that being a Black Masker, the name he prefers to Mardis Gras Indian, continues to hold relevance today. “Because of not being able to participate in Mardis Gras originally, we made a carnival for ourselves. We made Black Masking. You can’t forget. You can’t forget because of the injustices that are still going on, so when I put my suit on, when I sew my suit, I’m sewing my suit in rebellion to that,” he says.
After showing at several festivals, “All on a Mardi Gras Day” has garnered numerous awards and nominations. Watch the documentary on Pietrzyk’s Vimeo, and find out more about Melancon and his work on Instagram.
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Interview: A Prison Art Community On the Power of an Annual Exhibition in Michigan to Support More Than 700 Incarcerated Artists
As abolitionists and activists fight to end mass incarceration and the horrifying conditions of life in U.S. prisons, individuals and organizations have taken it upon themselves to help those trapped in the unjust system. The Prison Creative Arts Project has been undertaking such work for decades, bringing its community at the University of Michigan together with those directly affected by the carceral system through workshops, learning opportunities, and an annual exhibition.
Art was an out-of-body experience because when you’re in that type of environment, there’s usually a lot of violence or just a bunch of sad stuff. Art was a pathway to freedom on the outside.—Josh Herrera
In this conversation, Colossal managing editor Grace Ebert speaks with two formerly incarcerated artists, Johnny Van Patten and Josh Herrera, and faculty director Nora Krinitsky about how creative practices function while incarcerated, why exhibiting and selling work is essential to the process, and what the humanity of art means in a system built on dehumanization.
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In ‘Forothermore,’ Artist Nick Cave Harnesses the Power of Beauty and Art to Inspire Change
From floral Soundsuits and found-object sculptures to a multicolor web of millions of pony beads, Forothermore surveys the 30-plus-year career of artist Nick Cave. The retrospective, which draws its name from “forevermore” and “for others,” opened last week at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and captures both the evolution and mainstays of the artist’s practice. Cave spoke with Colossal in an interview ahead of the show, saying, “Why now, why now this moment, why this exhibition, why this survey, and who is it for? Once I removed myself from it, I realized that it’s not for me. It really allowed me to take a course of action in terms of that movement and what will this look like, looking at three and a half decades of work.”
Arranged thematically rather than chronologically, the exhibition opens with an iteration of the metallic wind spinners that were part of Cave’s 2017 show at MASS MoCA. Guns, bullets, and teardrops are embedded in some of the kinetic pieces that hang alongside smiling faces and peace signs. These sinister symbols pervade the suspended installation, which considers how a desire to only see beauty can mask painful, life-threatening issues.
Heavily patterned vinyl wallpaper designed in collaboration with Cave’s partner Bob Faust runs through much of the show and creates a textured backdrop for the artist’s mixed-media assemblages of kitsch figurines, vintage furniture, and other trinkets. Dozens of his signature Soundsuits stand inside the fourth-floor gallery, including the mournful piece veiled in 929 black flowers that was created in response to George Floyd’s murder. Wall sculptures made of items sourced from flea markets—these include rusted tools, dominos, wooden boards, button-up shirts, and glittering orbs—date back to the 90s and surround the vibrant, armor-like costumes.
Cave created the first Soundsuit following Rodney King’s beating in 1991, and he’s never wavered from confronting racism in his works. “As I’m trying to imagine other ways of thinking and making, I’m constantly being brought back to this, unfortunately,” he says. The exhibition also includes a collection of bronze arms cradling sprawling, metallic bouquets with hands often clenched and raised in a fist, a reference to strength and solidarity in the face of rampant injustice.
Forothermore is on view in Chicago through October 2, when it will travel to the You can read the full interview with Cave here, and find more from the artist on Instagram.
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Interview: A Conversation with Social Justice Sewing Academy Explores Community Activism and the Power of Remembering Through Quilts
When witnessing inequity is like digging into an already numb wound and participating in surface-level social justice is as easy as recycling digital shares, the Social Justice Sewing Academy offers the power of touch. The organization works with kids and teens to make quilt blocks that express injustices in their lives, and Colossal contributor Gabrielle Lawrence recently sat down with program director Stephanie Valencia to discuss the project’s mission in a new interview supported by Colossal Members.
They speak about the work of honoring the victims of violence and their families through community art, supporting young entrepreneurs with creative or social justice-oriented businesses, and most importantly, giving people something to hold on to.
So often, when someone loses a loved one, you cherish their items for a while. And then eventually, their items end up in a box, in the back of a closet, or in an attic somewhere. This really does give the family something to hold on to and use every day. Beyond comfort, it’s reflection, as well as memory. Every time they see or touch that quilt, they can remember the good times.
Ultimately, SJSA empowers youth to use their voices and requires tactile processing of issues that often seem bigger than all of us. Every stitch is felt, and it is not a practice that participants must endure alone. From design to completion, each person is required to spend time sitting with these stories in a physical way, which creates room for grief, remembrance, education, and critique.
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This Is Not a Gun: An Interview with Cara Levine Explores Collective Trauma, Grief, and the Power of Ritual
In December 2016, Harper’s Magazine published a list of more than 20 objects that had been “mistaken for guns during shootings of civilians by police in the United States since 2001.” Artist Cara Levine found herself stunned then grief-stricken by the items, prompting her to launch the multi-faceted This Is Not a Gun project, which she discusses in the latest interview supported by Colossal Members.
I needed to slow down and understand what I was looking at because I don’t want to live in a world where someone can be killed eating a sandwich. We are getting this information so fast. I decided first to carve. I thought, “If I can carve a sandwich, somewhere in the process, from block of wood to sandwich I can understand how someone might think this is a gun. If I just spend all the time understanding its form, maybe I’ll understand how it was mistaken as a gun.”
As Levine explains in her conversation with Colossal contributor Paulette Beete, she wasn’t naïve about gun violence or how often it occurred in Black communities at the hands of police. What she found unfathomable, however, was how these everyday objects could be interpreted as threats. So she turned to her art as a way to understand the seemingly understandable. In this interview, Levine speaks about how This Is Not A Gun has informed and evolved her practice, her understanding of both individual and collective grief and trauma, and the importance of ritual.
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Dozens of Photographs Connect Racial Justice and the Symbolism of Flowers in an Exhibition by The Earth Issue
An online exhibition by The Earth Issue, an artist collective interested in the intersection of environmental activism and social justice, centers on the symbolic power and precarious nature of the flower. Considered both a sign of love and an offering to make amends, plants in bloom are often sites of cultural contradiction, a theme that runs through the dozens of photographs in Strange Flowers—the show is titled in reference to Billie Holiday’s anti-lynching protest anthem “Strange Fruit.”
“Beauty felled in its prime. Taken without consent, their stems ripped from the earth, their connection to life severed, petals pulled and crushed underfoot. Just like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other innocent victims of racial injustice and police violence,” says a statement about the expansive collection.
The Earth Issue is selling prints of each of the works in its shop through April 11, and a portion of the proceeds will go to BIPOC communities. See some of Colossal’s favorites below, and peruse all the photographs on the collective’s site. (via Juxtapoz)
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Editor's Picks: Animation
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.