COMMUNITY ART IN THE POST-DISASTER LANDSCAPES OF TODAY
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Site #29: Morgana King "I Miss My Neighbors": 610 Lesseps, Upper Ninth Ward, New Orleans
Since Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans population has been cut down to roughly a third of its size, leaving neighborhoods full of abandoned houses. On top of people choosing not to return, the city has still not redeveloped public housing units at all – 2.5 years later. This is a major source of controversy because it is widely believed that the government, through its neglect, is intentionally keeping poor, black and elderly people from returning to their homes. One of these vacant small brick apartment buildings is across the street from my house, where I lived before the storm.
I spent the year after the hurricane away from New Orleans and missed everything about my old life. When I finally did return, I was saddened by how much it had lost - especially the people who were missing. Many slogans have been made into T-shirts and yard signs promoting levee protection, or railing against FEMA, and I was always trying to come-up with my own phrase that would sum up my feelings living in this strange abandoned place. It came to me one day, and I think it sums up my local feelings about the specific people I miss on my street and addresses the city's Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) inaction. I feel that this slogan is relevant to everyone in New Orleans. The slogan is: "I Miss My Neighbors".
I created a large handmade banner that stretched above the railing on the second floor balcony of the afore-mentioned abandoned building on my street. On the boarded up windows and doors of the building I painted remembrances of people who used to live there. Like the loud guy who lived in the corner apartment who would always shout "Hey Neighbor!" and "Howdy!" when I was on the street. Or the elderly lady who would sit on a chair on the balcony for hours and hours everyday. I don't intend for this work to be overtly political - I feel this statement is more about sharing a personal feeling.
Initially the first night the banner was up someone tore it down. I don't know who did it, but I was surprised, even pleased, to get such a strong reaction. I re-hung the banner and added two paintings - over the course of the week I added another one every night so that when my neighbors woke up a new portrait would have appeared. This went on until I finished. The work has since been completely torn down (HANO claim to be renovating the building now) (and how surprising is it that they had the energy and time to tear down this art but not to clean the yard/building and get new tenants in???) but I envision this project as on-going. I got a lot of support from my current neighbors telling me how much they appreciated it and agree with my feelings - in this way I feel like we've been reconnecting and rebuilding.
I have plans to reinstall the work and to have a block party celebrating it. Visitors can remember their neighbors who are not here anymore; we can share food and stories and those who want to will be able to create "I Miss My Neighbors" yard signs to take home or put in the yard of a missing friend. This will spread the slogan all over town and hopefully through this process of sharing our personal feelings we can keep some of our missing friends connected to us and New Orleans.
(ArtInAction would like to note that while population figures for the city of New Orleans show an increase and we now regularly read how the city's population is at 70% "pre-Katrina numbers", one must keep in mind that approximately 35% of our current population are new citizens and were not here before the storm.)