Everything Gourmet

Celebrating the Black Indians of New Orleans

Beaded Mardi Gras suit of Queen Rukiya with Buffalo motif. Eleonora Brown. ©Roeathea Butlier for Aya Noire Photography

Paris, France — There is another Mardi Gras in New Orleans, in another part of town with a different ambiance, a different feel and spectacular costumes, music and dance. This other Mardi Gras is revealed in an exhibition currently underway in Paris entitled Black Indians from New Orleans being held at the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac. The exhibition explores the history of African Americans within the context of the history of Louisiana, a history that was punctuated by violence and upheaval starting with the uprooting and the capture of tribal peoples in Africa to the horrendous conditions during the crossing of the Atlantic, the landing in New Orleans, slavery, the Civil War, segregation and racism. It was within this context of repression and violence that a unique world was forged by the African-Americans reflected in their resistance and resilience, and their cultural and artistic practices. 

Spectacular suits or costumes worn by the Black Indians of New Orleans at the Paris exhibition. Photo ©Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, photo Léo Delafontaine

The exhibition is articulated in six parts and is played out both geographically from the Old World to the New World and chronologically from the first European presence in Louisiana to the present day. It is a collaborative show created with representatives of the Black Indian communities. The brutal European colonization of the region combined with forced labor and oppression brought together the Native Americans with the newly arrived Africans. The two communities developed lasting ties. They often lived together on the reservations, they would intermarry and have children together. Throughout the 19th century, Native American lore, lifestyles, beliefs and attire would be an inspiration for the first Black Indians, the African Americans. The two communities would gather together on Sundays — when farm work was forbidden by the Catholic Church —on what was then called Place des Nègres and has since been renamed Congo Square. Here cultural, religious and artistic practices were renewed, generated and regenerated including the Creole language and Voodoo. The term Black Indian refers to the African-American communities of New Orleans.

New Orleans Mardi Gras Black Indian in a spectacular suit. Photo Charles Fréger. ©Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac

The central point of the exhibition is the history and extensive creativity of the community’s flamboyant Mardi Gras which offers each year a powerful cultural and artistic statement. Spectacular costumes (called suits), objects, video and audio recordings showcase the rich traditions expressed in the carnival which takes over the street and public areas of New Orleans, underscoring the presence and importance of the African American communities inside the city. The exhibition runs until January 15th. The Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac brings together extensive, permanent collections of art and objects from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania. ©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette. 37 quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, 75007 Paris, France. Tel: +33 (0)1 56 61 70 00. https://www.quaibranly.fr/en/

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