Intense emotions expressed around the world after the release of «Twelve Years A Slave» bears testimony to the significance of questions surrounding memory and race within the American society. The film, by British film director Steve McQueen, strongly underlines the predicament of the legacy of slavery in the United States. Far from a done deal, this central element in the history of the United States of America remains a vivid subject, a century and several decades after its abolition. The passion aroused by the film reveals that while it is sometimes masked, restored or even reinterpreted, America’s slave past is indispensable and remains at the heart of relations in the country. Alex Haley’s «Roots», released in the 70’s, prompted similar emotions and debates.
Aside from the neglect of African American communities, an underlying cause of the exponential increase of unemployment in New Orleans, the most significant situation that followed the devastating 2005 Hurricane Katrina was the discovery that the racial geography of the city had remained unchanged since its racial segregation eras. As the gushing winds and high waters of the hurricane tore through New Orleans, disembowelled abodes of the city’s black community could not but expose the concealed ghosts of segregation and slavery: poverty and misery.
It is with this depiction of the situation at hand that I decided to undertake a research documentary project in Louisiana and Mississippi, to better understand the origin of this racialised geography. I also sought to wrap my brains around how the various racial categories shape memory, geographical heritage and economic, political and interpersonal relations. The series presented here was undertaken in Louisiana and Mississippi, two former confederate states that share a common history: French colonisation, slavery and plantation economies, civil war trauma, reconstruction, segregation, economic decline and a recent redirection of the economy towards mass tourism.
Three of the most established communities in these territories appear in this study: Black, Creole and White. I, especially, tried to question real memories linked to the Antebellum (which preceded the American civil war and Black emancipation) and segregation periods by examining certain modern modes of memory transmission and the re- appropriation of past events. Physical proximity, however, does not translate into interaction between the different communities. More often than not, these communities remain separated while laying claim to different aspects of a heritage or tradition, in a partial or selective manner, linked to a particular historical space.Those who refer to themselves as Black Indians, for example, see themselves as descendants of Maroon slaves and Amerindian resistance fighters, as opposed to plantation slaves. White families in Natchez think of themselves as heirs of a glorious past linked to cotton while at the same time trivialising an irreverent slave past. Creoles, descendants of “free people of color” and inheritors of the oldest black bourgeoisie in the United States, often ignore the fact that most of their forebears were slave owners.
The common denominator in the speeches and testimonies among people of these different communities, during interviews, is seemingly their constant references to the American civil war. The war, to them, is the gap between two worlds. Education, economic empowerment, justice and the media favour the White community and do not encourage the sharing of collective memory. Memory, which is made to be shared – here I refer to the tragedy of slavery and segregation – becomes a community’s memory; a segregated memory. Memory becomes a community issue of which only African Americans are keepers.
The photographs seek to explore the complexities and contradictions linked to collective memory in the southern parts of the United States. The project examines how and why the communities re-appropriate the past, the thought process among its racial strata and the ways and manners by which they are transferring this memory to the next generation.
Nicola Lo Calzo / Translation into English : Prince Moses Ofori-Atta
- Painting of the “Casta” / Museo Nacional del Virreinato in Tepotzotlan / Mexico State, XVII century
- Oak Alley Plantation Tour, Vacherie, Louisiana
- Production Cast Volunteers of the Natchez Tableau, Miss.
- The Windsor Ruins, 1861, Claiborne County, Mississippi
- Bettye Jenkins, with her grand daugthers, Hawthorne House
- Dress Room, Historic Natchez Tableau, Miss.
- The entrance to the stage, Natchez Historic Tableau, Miss.
- Portrait of a free woman of color, dated 1857, Le Musée de f.p.c.
- Members of the Bunch Club with their special guests, Nola
- Diane H. Destrehan at the end of a legacy tour at her ancestors plantation
- African angel, St. Peter Claver Church,Tremé, New Orleans
- «The Sisters of the Holy family» congregation, founded in 1842
- Cris, Tremé, New Orleans
- The Black Christ, Youth Ministry Room, St. Peter Claver Church, Treme
- Ricardo, Member of the Buffalo Soldiers, Claiborne Avenue, Tremé
- Slave Cabin, Felicita plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana
- Angel and Chris with their children,Tremé, Nola
- Brandon & Wallace wearing blackface, Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club
- Queen Cherice Harrison, Monument of The Unknown Slave
- David Ducros singer, during the filming of the clip «One Mic»
- David Montana, Chief of the Washitaw Nation, Tremé
- Big David, rap singer, Lake Pontchartrain
- Creole Queen Steamboat, Chalmette Battlefield
- Reenactment at Fort Randolph, Pineville, Louisiana
- Sir Boxley dresses as a civil war soldier at the Forks of the Roads
- Noah, Confederate Infantry, Fort Randolph, Pineville Louisiana
- Jeanne Roman de La Villebeuvre, the mistress of Oak Alley (1836-1889)
- Jennifer at the Second Line, Claiborne, Tremé, Nola
- Maurepas Swamps, Louisiana
- Katarina Boudreaux, cadjun descendent of French settler Michel Boudreaux
- Rex and Queen, the Grand Ball of His Majesty Rex 2014
- The guests of Rex ball, Shareton Hotel, Nola
- Dolly, Magnolia Praline Company Shop, French Quarter, Nola