Rebuilding Lives Through Art
by Brian Goslow
Born and raised in New Orleans, multi-media artist Dawn DeDeaux had been working on “lots” of large-scale digital works when Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005. “I was suddenly unplugged,” she told a lecture audience at the College of the Holy Cross recently. She said her response was to “go hands-on in reconfiguring my world” through her art.
DeDeaux traveled to Pass Christian on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where her parents had a home. “I went looking for it and it was gone,” she said. She walked down to the beach, where a powerful wave had destroyed a shopping complex, the outside structure of which resembled a large glass box. When the water subsided, she found herself standing ankle deep in shattered glass from its windows. “Then, all of a sudden, the sun came out, reflecting on the glass. There was a physical paradox to the experience.”
It was an experience that inspired the work that sits at the center of the second part of the “Katrina Then and Now: Artists as Witness” exhibition being held this semester at Holy Cross’ Cantor Gallery. Subtitled “The Rebirth of Art,” the show is a cross-section of artifacts, paintings, sculpture and photographs of New Orleans since that fateful morning.
“There’s a variety of timeframes here,” gallery director Roger Hankins explained. “It’s a real mix scanning the 10 years since Katrina.” All the New Orleans-based artists in the show had lost their studios due to the hurricane or its after-effects. “So how do you deal with it? You pull the threads of your life together. If you’re already a creative person, and you’ve lost all of your art — you make new art.”
The aforementioned DeDeaux work, “Hurricane Suite in Nine Movements,” was constructed out of glass and mixed media materials in 2006 and 2007. As soon as you enter the gallery, you’re pulled toward its oceanic green tones; once upon it, nine swirling sections resembling the eye of a hurricane — or the powerful riptides that pulled many New Orleans residents into the sea on that fatal day — call out to your imagination.