A handful of people with ties to New Orleans are taking painful memories from Hurricane Katrina and turning them into compelling works of art.
NPR recently featured the work of three such artists who have found art to be an expressive outlet for coping with the hurricane’s devastation and its aftermath. What’s perhaps most intriguing about their stories is the fact that they didn’t consider themselves to be artists until after the hurricane struck.
“I didn’t become a photographer until Katrina,” L. Kasimu Harris tells NPR. “Katrina helped me fall in love with photography as a tool to tell stories.”
In the immediate aftermath, artist Skylar Fein found countless pieces of wood from destroyed houses, including four matching table legs that he used to make a table he had lost in the storm. Once others saw the table, he started getting requests to make more.
“They got it was made out of the wreckage of the storm,” Fein tells NPR. “And it was a way of taking the destruction and the pain — sadness — but making it into something beautiful. And tame the destruction, but represent it.”
Rontherin Ratliff, who was born in New Orleans, created a piece of art titled “Nurtured” that’s based on a deeply personal experience he had during the hurricane. “Ratliff can’t swim, but he floated over the Upper Ninth Ward in a blow-up raft to try to save his family’s valuables. He remembers how the sun cut through his grandmother’s drowned house, while he scooped up piles of her ruined photographs,” NPR explains. “Those water-stained mementos are now part of a sculpture hanging from the 10-foot ceiling of his studio in an old downtown office building.”
The full NPR.org story, which goes into greater depth about each artist, is well worth the read. NPR also published a good Restorative Narrative last week that looks at the pain, grief, and resilience that has emerged in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.