As we mark the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, many still are — and will forever be — scarred by the unimaginable destruction witnessed in the Southern United States. Time and again, however, Americans emerge stronger than ever, turning tragedy into triumph and ugliness into art.
In August of 2005, most Americans watched on their televisions as the Gulf Coast — and especially the city of New Orleans — was rocked by the costliest and nearly the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. A category 5 hurricane, Katrina had wind speeds as high as 174 MPH and killed nearly 2,000 people. The images transmitted through our screens were stunning in their truthfulness to the destruction of the storm and the dire situation in which many residents found themselves.
Rolland Golden, “Arches of Misery,” 2007, acrylic on canvas, (c) The Historic New Orleans Collection 2015
The physical, mental, and visual experience of the storm was very different for those who found themselves in its path and struggling to survive in its wake. Following the storm, as communities began to rebuild, many were already beginning to reflect on the events, and it seems only natural that artists of the region would express their experiences in new and unique ways. One of those artists was Rolland Golden, and for about two years following Katrina, he recorded his observations and feelings in 32 major works, 14 of which are now on view at The Historic New Orleans Collection.
Rolland Golden, “Elysian Fields, Land of the Gods,” 2006, acrylic on canvas,
(c) The Historic New Orleans Collection 2015
“Desperation” is one such picture, and it is gripping in its raw emotional content. At center right in the foreground, we find an elderly figure wearing a horrified expression. Surrounding the figure are a number of destroyed homes, their siding and wood panels scattered across the ground. Although the destruction is magnetic, it is the figure with whom we identify and on whom we concentrate. There is a pain and sorrow emanating from her that is absolutely moving, and the brilliant red hue of her garment leaps from the surface, pushing the figure uncomfortably close to the viewer. Golden doesn’t want us to shy away, but to confront and bring to the fore the experiences of Gulf Coast residents.
Rolland Golden, “Throw Me a Line, Mister,” 2006, acrylic on canvas, (c) The Historic New Orleans Collection 2015
The situation is perhaps more ominous in “Throw Me a Line, Mister,” which displays a family of African Americans stranded on a rooftop. With minimal details, the figures are silhouetted, highlighted with a fiery red-orange that has a hellish tone. Within the gaps between their bodies, we find other desperate individuals, everyone holding their arms high in hopes of rescue.
“Rolland Golden’s Hurricane Katrina Series: A Selection” opened on July 29 and will be available through January 16.
To learn more, visit The Historic New Orleans Collection.
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