After all of these years of knowing NYWC blogger, Kesha Star Young, I was surprised to learn that in addition to being a writer, she was also an equally talented photographer. Her exhibit, “New Orleans in Mourning” is currently on display at Breukelen Cellars, a wine and art boutique in Brooklyn. It features images from her visit to the American city in 2006. She had lived there previously but returned one year after Hurricane Katrina after receiving the support from a friend, and created this project. For those who are still contemplating traveling to the Big Easy with NYWC this October, I encourage you all to check out Kesha’s work. The exhibit is an honest portrayal of a dynamic city that is often outshined by its many troubles.
With her camera, Kesha captured much of New Orleans’ layered personality, including parade-related festivities and the devastation left by the storm. Perhaps not an intentional malapropism, her choice of the word “mourning” alludes to the extremes exacerbated by the storm. There are plenty of festivities in a city with a history of preserving its rich cultural practices and artistic expression. However, artists have been among those displaced since Katrina and because of the politics of affordable housing, many have been unable to return. This causes residents to worry that their beloved city is vulnerable to a transformation that would alter its unique flare.
The dual nature of the city’s character is evidenced by people’s reactions after visiting. People love New Orleans for the same reasons others hate it. There are those who are attracted to its hedonistic culture and others who are repulsed by the gritty, in your face attitude. I also traveled to New Orleans in 2006 to take part in reconstructive efforts. Although I found the widespread devastation to be disheartening, I was able to appreciate the steadfastness of the city’s residents and their spirit as they tried to rebound with little help from those outside of their community. As a writer, I was drawn to the amazing support system created for local artists. “Everyone has a voice, everyone has a way of expression,” explains Kesha, “It’s all about culture.” And it is that vibrant culture that gives people enough need for celebration, no matter how much cause there is for mourning.