In July 2005, some six weeks before Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, a Voodoo ceremony took place in the 9th Ward neighborhood of New Orleans.1 Led by priestess Sallie Ann Glassman, a large group gathered to pray and make offerings to Our Lady of Prompt Succor and to Ezili Danto, the Haitian spirit of passion and storms. Their prophetic ritual—an annual 'hurricane hex' intended to protect New Orleans against the coming threat of the storm season—assumed an eerie resonance in its failure.
New Orleans Voodoo developed within the French, Spanish, and Creole speaking African-American population of Louisiana. Through the slave trade, African religious practices became syncretized with Catholicism.2 Today, it exemplifies the rich confluence of cultures and languages that has defined the former port city as entirely unique. New Orleans Voodoo practitioners believe that all living souls come from water and will eventually return to water.3 However, when Katrina floods broke the levees, water was responsible for more than 1,800 human deaths, the displacement of countless more residents, and over $81 billion dollars in property damages.4
The Eye considers the etymology behind the word "supernatural" (above + nature), by presenting two aerial photographs, each depicting a sloping wall of thick white clouds against a blue sky. The sublimity of the photographs is deceiving; they actually depict Katrina itself, which masks any view of the havoc it wrought below as the storm touched ground. Taken by Dewie Floyd and Lt. Mike Silah from aircrafts flying inside the eyewall of the storm, the images provide points from which to contemplate Katrina's supernaturalism in terms of verticality, visuality, power and so many unseen hierarchical forces at work.
Also on display is a particular gris-gris, a Voodoo amulet worn during a hurricane hex for its affective
properties. Voodoo has been summarily misrepresented in the media, stigmatized as a malicious occult practice, rather than a positive conglomeration of monotheistic and polytheistic diasporic faiths. While Louisiana is considered one of the most
paranormally active states in the U.S., if haunted, no specter weighs as heavily as the criminal lack of response from the Bush administration. Louisiana was summarily abandoned, left to fend for itself in calamity. In
that sense, this exhibition symbolically secedes from the curatorial union of Americana. Rather than diverting from the obvious to explore the obscure, this exhibition seeks to position Katrina not as a little-known history, but as
an overlooked present.
Curated by Chris Fitzpatrick
1Hexing a Hurricane, 2006, a documentary film directed by Jeremy Campbell, ten18films
2Neda Ulaby, "Katrina Disperses New Orleans' Voodoo Ceremony," All Things Considered, National Public Radio, October 21, 2005
3 Hexing a Hurricane, 2006, a documentary film directed by Jeremy Campbell, ten18films
4Richard D. Nabb, Jamie R. Rhome, and Daniel P. Brown, Tropical Cyclone Report, Hurricane Katrina, August 23-30, 2005 (updated August 10, 2006)