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White on Time

Artists Bruce Davenport & Gayle Madeira Discuss White Linen Night Shows

Saturday from 6pm-9pm, the Arts District will become a sea of white frocks and batting fans for this year’s White Linen Night. The unique fundraiser for the Contemporary Arts Center takes patrons up and down the 300 – 700 blocks of Julia Street, and throughout neighborhood galleries.


Amid all the drinks, food, live music and signature cocktails involved in this somewhat high-brow celebration, it is easy to forget that this is a night to celebrate New Orleans’ artists and the City. Here are a couple of shows you don’t want to miss.


“I Still Have A Dream”, a group exhibition highlighting the America’s fight for justice and equality, honors the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The exhibit runs through August 31 at the Stella Jones Gallery located at 201 St. Charles Avenue.


Bruce A. Davenport, Jr., one artist featured in this exhibit, has another show in the White Linen openings at the Arthur Roger Gallery (432 Julia Street). Davenport, self-taught and raised in the Lafitte housing project, desired a career in football until an injury returned him to his childhood interest in art. His color marker drawings of local high school bands have ensured that he's still noticed on the field, however. Though he once sold works for mere hundreds to pay the bills, he is now selling pieces for thousands worldwide.


Davenport said talking with elder family and community members about living during the Jim Crow South inspired the work.


“Whatever I imagined as they told me story after story is what I painted,” he said.


The artist’s goal was to show the depth of racism in the segregated South, as well as how destructive it was.


“I wanted to show the younger generation how lucky they are to be able to sit wherever they want on a bus, go into any store, and even vote. I wanted them to have a better understanding of what their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins went through for them," he said.


With his fifth feature in White Linen Night, the artist aims to illustrate what he sees as a dying culture of African-American pride and heritage.  The artist’s message to young people: “Be proud of being a Negro”.


Davenport has no aspirations towards the “art scene” and proudly proclaims himself as a “field Negro."


They keep trying to bring me inside and make me a house Negro but I always run back out to the fields," he said. "I will remain a field Negro until I can own my own plantation.”


And he certainly has, selling and showing the majority of his works overseas. He had a show in Tokyo this time last year, another coming up in France and many collectors in Denmark. When I asked him why overseas, he declared the art scene in the states as ridiculous and nearly non-existent.


“In America we’re all wrapped up in music and celebrities,” he said.


Davenport said this is why events like White Linen Night are so important.


He is also treated differently overseas. They see him as an artist rather than a “black artist”, according to Davenport. “They don’t see color and appreciate the work first.”


Davenport has 21 pieces in high schools across the city and strives to make affordable work that speaks to the culture of the “black man”. He spoke of a looming series featuring cotton-picking, saying, “I’m coming in, busting down doors and taking hostages.”


Other artists featured include Chris McNair, Charly Plamer and Elizabeth Cattlett.


The Foundation Gallery at 608 Julia Street is also having a show that pushes the boundaries of viewer comfort. “The Burlesque and Film Portraits” by award-winning artist Gayle Madeira. Globally known artist and dancer, Madeira explores her fascination with the physical body. Her highly detailed, to-scale, tightly cropped portraits show every hair and wrinkle. Her attention to detail and applied techniques discern her paintings and make them easily mistakable for photographs.


The Burlesque Portraits are part of Madeira’s Fleur De Lis Series.


“I saw my first burlesque when I was 18 years old in New Orleans. It was a beautiful old theater, off the beaten path, and the dancer was obviously ballet trained. She did a very beautiful ballet and slowly removed her gauzy dress during the dance, never dropping her character. It made a strong impression on me and was a great introduction to burlesque.”


Madeira began the Fleur de Lis series last November and just finished last week.


“I looked up images of the fleur de lis online and started to get a little obsessed with the image," she said. "It was only at that point that I realized it is the symbol for New Orleans! So I decided it definitely had to go on the wallpaper on that painting.”


Madeira explained that the iconic symbol evolved into a signature for the collection. Every piece has one, Madeira said, though some are much more pronounced than others.


“Sometimes it is very obvious and sometimes quite hidden, but they all have one," she said. "I think of them almost like a lipstick kiss on each painting, a New Orleans lipstick kiss.”


This series was also inspired by her own experience as a burlesque dancer in New York City from 1993-2009, a time when many uniquely creative artists were forced to flee due to the rising costs of living. Gayle reflected on a hard time for creative people in NYC:


“Restaurant Florent was a funky, cool restaurant in the meatpacking district (when it was still a meat packing district) and they hosted many burlesque events. In between performances, the dancers would often go down into the basement to rest. They would think about how they were going to pay the rent next month, or eat tomorrow.”


It was these off-the-stage moments Madeira was interested in, when the dancers had dropped their guard and were relaxed, contemplative, still wearing or surrounded by their lavish costumes.


Gayle said the fleur de lis is an image that fits well with these themes of glamour, struggle, and grace through it all.


“Both New Orleans and New York City are constantly falling down or being knocked down and being rebuilt. Artists in both cities are constantly trying to find ways to make a living. The fleur de lis represents that constant shedding of old skin, old work, old ways and thrusting upwards to find the sunlight.”


The show starts White Linen Night, with Madeira in attendance, and runs until September 28. All proceeds from this exhibition will be donated a different cause each night, with White Linen Night’s intake going to Project Elevation, fighting violence against women through the strength of women.


“I adore burlesque," she said. "It has the capacity to push people's buttons, to make them see the world and the human body in different ways. I was very excited to learn today from a burlesque dancer named Harvest Moon that there is a burlesque festival in New Orleans in September and I hope the exhibit will be up at the same time.”



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