September Launch: Project HEAL Natchez
Project HEAL Natchez – Art Exhibit and Performance Series Launches September 14 in Natchez, MS with a focus on cultural heritage and the African American struggle from slavery to freedom.
After a yearlong collaboration between Louisville, KY-based IDEAS xLab, the City of Natchez and over 10 community artists and organizations, Project HEAL Natchez launches with an art exhibit and performance series featuring art pieces, photographs, food, music, and stories lifting up cultural heritage in Natchez, MS.
Project HEAL Natchez is supported by a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant, with additional support from Humana Inc., the MS Humanities Council, and the We Shall Overcome Fund.
Since fall 2016, IDEAS xLab’s artists and curator have worked alongside the Natchez Art Association, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., Southwest Mississippi Chapter, Miss Lou Heritage Group & Tours, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez Heritage School of Cooking, Visit Natchez, and Natchez artists and entrepreneurs, along with Brazilian artist Cadu to create a series of visual and sculptural art pieces and performances that lift up the often untold stories of Africans Americans throughout Natchez’s 300-year history.
Proceeds from the sales of Button Soap will support cultural and heritage efforts in Natchez including those of Miss Lou Heritage Group & Tours and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., Southwest Mississippi Chapter and programming for the “Girls’n Pearls” (girls ages 8 to 18 mentored by the Chapter).
Project HEAL Natchez focuses on St. Catherine Street, which embodies the African American struggle from slavery to freedom and extends from Forks of the Road - the site of the second largest slave market in the Deep South (c. 1830-1861) – to the "MLK Triangle," the hub of the Natchez Civil Rights Movement on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
The Project HEAL Natchez Exhibit and Performance series will launch September 14 from 6-8pm with a free, open to the public event at the historic Angelety House, hosted by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., Southwest Mississippi Chapter.
The exhibit includes over 750 lbs. of Natchez-made magnolia scented soap for the Equity Platform, hand-carved buttons made of magnolia wood, cast soap hand sculptures housing a single pearl and metal plate, photographs and narratives. The exhibit will be activated by a performance of the 12 “Girls’n Pearls” (girls ages 8 to 18 mentored by the Chapter) entitled "We'll Rise Up." A full description of each art piece and a list of participating artists is available at the end of the release.
On September 16, join Miss Lou Heritage Group & Tours and Natchez Heritage School of Cooking for an immersive evening featuring a performance of “Narrative of a Natchez Slave,” a heritage food tasting, and artistic collaboration “Smoketown Meets the Blues Trail of Natchez” – which brings together spoken word artist Hannah Drake of Smoketown (Louisville, KY) and Blues Legend Mr. Y Z Ealey (Natchez, MS).
"Project HEAL Natchez has been transformative in its approach to engaging arts, culture, and heritage in Natchez," said Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell. "It has been amazing to witness the collaboration between so many different organizations and individuals throughout the community. Black and white. Young and old. All brought together by artists to lift up the cultural heritage narrative of the African American community while seeking to expand economic opportunities, especially as it relates to tourism."
"It has truly been a pleasure working with the artists and leaders of Project HEAL," said Dr. Brenda Moore, President of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., Southwest Mississippi Chapter. "The energy, excitement, and knowledge that they have shared with the NCBW Southwest Mississippi Chapter and the Girls’n Pearls has been immeasurable. We are thankful Project HEAL embraced our organization, engaging the Girls’n Pearls in expressive pursuits –art, music, dance, and storytelling to better understand their history."
"The Historic Natchez Foundation is very excited about participating with IDEAS xLab in a project that unites multiple organizations and many disciplines--including art, music, food ways, nutrition, health, history, and historic preservation--to create visual and sculptural art pieces and performances that focus on building community and telling under-represented stories of African Americans," said Mimi Miller of Historic Natchez Foundation.
"The project and concept arose from the rich interaction with numerous members of the city of Natchez," said Brazilian artist Cadu, who spent a month in Natchez as part of Project HEAL. "Teachers, historians, health and nutrition workers, tour guides, local artists, small business owners, individuals and activists engaged in the community. All have served not only as guides but as true co-authors. Without them we would not have reached the level of poetic metaphor we have achieved by engaging effective economic, historical and social justice aspects, so important to our work. “
Participating Artists and Entrepreneurs for Project HEAL Natchez include:
Brazilian artist Cadu conceptualized and co-created the Equity Platform, Girls’n Pearls Soap Sculpture, and Button Soap.
Louisville, KY artist, author and spoken word artist, Hannah L. Drake designed "We’ll Rise Up".
Cultural Liaison for Project HEAL was Natchez artist Leon Hollins III.
Natchez artist and entrepreneur Ann Grennell of Scent From Natchez produced the magnolia soap.
Natchez artists Johnnie and Loraine Griffin created the soap molds for the platform and individual hand sculptures.
Natchez artist Johnnie Griffin and his grandson Daniel J. Hartwell carved the wood buttons.
Natchez artist and entrepreneur Jeremy Houston, in collaboration with the Natchez Historic Foundation, wrote the text of the Button Soap Story.
Natchez cultural producer Jarita Frazier-King of Natchez Heritage School of Cooking
Mack James, Natchez photographer, worked with 12 girls mentored by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women to develop PhotoVoice: Girls 'n Pearls Explore Their Natchez.
Mark LaFrancis, Natchez author and filmmaker, worked with 9 local high school students from 3 different schools to develop PhotoVoice: My World, My View, My Natchez.
In collaboration with the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., Southwest Mississippi Chapter, their 12 “Girls’n Pearls” (girls ages 8 to 18 mentored by the Chapter), and Natchez-based artists and small business owners – Brazilian artist Cadu created the Equity Platform, Girls’n Pearls Soap Sculpture, and Button Soap.
Equity Platform uses slabs of magnolia scented, hand-made soap produced in Natchez, MS, which is stacked so the members of “Girls’n Pearls” – who range in height from 4'11" to 5'7" – are all 5'8" when standing on their slab of the Equity Platform. The magnolia is the state flower of Mississippi and symbolizes dignity, joy and nobility.
Throughout opening night on September 14 at the Angelety House, the “Girls’n Pearls” will perform We’ll Rise Up - a narrative of how Black healing is a communal art, not an individualistic act, rooted in Black history and storytelling. The artistic showcase combines traditional step dancing, singing, poetry and liturgical dance - and takes the audience on a journey from Africa to Natchez with an emphasis on liberation and equality. It challenges the audience to decide where they stand when it comes to injustice, speaks to the solidarity of a community and how knowledge of history can impact social justice. Performances on September 14 will be held at 6:30, 7:15 and 7:45 p.m.
Girls’n Pearls Hand Soap is a series of 12 individual sculptures embodying the name “Girls’n Pearls” – with pearls as a symbol for the rite of passage from girlhood to womanhood. Again, magnolia soap was used, this time filling molds capturing the negative space within each girls’ hands cupped together as if they are holding something precious. Encased in each soap sculpture will be a single pearl along with a metal plate inscribed with words each girl wrote to describe her future self. The cast soap sculptures encompass themes including the passage of time, femininity, and self-image. Participants will keep their individual sculpture at the end of the Angelety House exhibition.
Button Soap is inspired by “Forks of the Road,” which sits only a few blocks down St. Catherine Street from the Angelety House. Some of the only archaeological artifacts found on the site following its destruction were buttons from slave’s clothing. Soap from the Equity Platform will be cut into individual bars and a single wooden button, hand- carved from magnolia branches will be inserted. Each bar will be accompanied by the story of the "Forks of the Road."
“After using the soap, the button can be extracted and attached to a piece of clothing, restoring its utilitarian use but also identifying a camaraderie of consciousness,” says artist Cadu.
100 bars of Button Soap will be available for sale during the exhibit at the Angelety House and online – visit misslouheritagegroup.com for more information. After the exhibit, the Equity Platform will be cut into more than 5,000 bars of Button Soap and proceeds from the sales will support the renovation and programming of the Angelety House.
Equity Platform, Girls’n Pearls Hand Soap sculpture, and Button Soap will be on display for 6 weeks: September 14-Oct 21, 2017 at the Angelety House. See schedule below for exhibit dates and time.
Project HEAL Natchez also features two Photovoice projects.
· PhotoVoice Exhibit I: Girls'n Pearls Explore Their Natchez
o Natchez photographer Mack James, along with Leon Hollins, worked with the “Girls’N Pearls” to identify, visualize, and enhance their community experience through newly learned photographic techniques. The Girls took a series of photos that feature both the positive and negative in their environment, utilizing photography as a way to attach imagery to their lived experiences and offer insight based in their own social world.
· Photovoice Exhibit II: My World, My View, My Natchez
o My World, My View, My Natchez engaged nine middle and high-school students from Cathedral High School, Fallin Career and Technology Center, and Natchez High School, providing them with the technical knowledge and personal freedom to create photographic stories of their experiences and environment. Photographers G. Mark LaFrancis and Leon Hollins organized the project, exploring “place” through the eyes of the young photographers; looking at their community in a new and different way.
Project HEAL Natchez was made possible by support from the National Endowment for Arts (Our Town Grant), Mississippi Humanities Council, We Shall Overcome Fund from Highland Research Center and Education (New Market, TN), and Humana, Inc.
Schedule for September 14, 16, 17, 2017:
September 14, 2017:
6-8pm Angelety House, 180 St. Catherine St., Natchez, MS
Free, Accessible, and Open to the Public
PhotoVoice Exhibit: Girls'n Pearls Explore Their Natchez
Girls’n Pearls Hand Soap Sculpture Exhibit
"We’ll Rise Up" Performance by Girls’n Pearls (Opening night only)
September 16, 2017:
5-7p Exhibition Open at Angelety House, 180 St. Catherine St., Natchez, MS
Free, Accessible, Open to the Public
7-9p Miss Lou Heritage Group & Tours, 199 St. Catherine St., Natchez MS
Event: St. Catherine St. – Where Heritage Comes Alive
Event tickets at door $10, Open to the Public, Accessible.
"Narrative of a Slave" by Jeremy Houston
Heritage Food Tasting by Jarita Frazier-King, Natchez Heritage School of Cooking
"Smoketown Meets the Blues Trail of Natchez" – Collaboration between spoken word artist Hannah Drake and Blues Legend Mr. Y Z Ealey
September 17, 2017:
2-4p ArtsNatchez Gallery, 425 Main Street, Natchez, MS
Free, Accessible, Open to the public
PhotoVoice Exhibit: My World, My View, My Natchez
Following opening weekend, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Southwest MS chapter opened the Angelety House to the public to experience the exhibit and to provide access to free health screenings.
About IDEAS xLab:
IDEAS xLab uses culture as a catalyst for building healthier communities and resilient economies where everyone has a chance to thrive based on their abilities. Our community development approach centers around the arts -- a signature driver of culture. We believe that health is foundational. In connecting culture to health and wellbeing we drive change that inspires a new perspective on how to be healthy in the places where we live, work and learn.
Selected artist bios:
Cadu (Eduardo Felix Costa) is a Brazilian artist with a Post PHD in Art and Philosophy and a professor at PUC-Rio and the School of Visual Arts at Parque Lage. He has exhibited extensively and is represented by Galeria Vermelho. Cadu was selected as a fellow by the International Fellowship Program supported by the Arts Council of England and won the prestigious 2013 Pipa Award. He participated in the New York Residency Unlimited program and was the winner of the 2015 Radio Krakow Prize in Poland for the show “It’s Gonna Rain.” Between 2014 and 2017, he participated as an artist in residence in the InSite Foundation (Mexico) called Casa Gallina where he developed the project "Soy Mandala", a performance film linked to the feminine traditions of dance and embroidery, with a group of elderly ladies from the neighborhood of Santa Maria la Ribeira. The project is to be presented simultaneously at the Jumex Museum (Mexico City) and at the 35th Panorama of Brazilian Art at the Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo in 2017. The recurrent issues in his works focus on discipline, catastrophe and love, using the environment and the landscape as active actors. Since childhood, Cadu always liked to create mechanisms of inventions between man and nature as another form of language.
Hannah Drake is a Spoken Word artist –advocate with an inspirational message. Frequently asked to speak throughout the country, she brings message of hope and deliverance believing that poetry can ignite true transformation. Hannah is a veteran performer whose credits include the legendary Showtime at the Apollo in Harlem. Before joining IDEAS xLab, Hannah spent many years as Pastoral Administrative Assistant to Dr. F. Bruce Williams at Bates Memorial Baptist Church in Smoketown. (Louisville, KY) In her role with IDEAS xLab, Hannah acts as a lead artist for Project HEAL and other community-related initiatives.