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Paint Flows More Easily Than Words

Paint flows more easily than words as I think about Katrina. I was eighteen years old when the storm hit. My family and I had “evacuated” to Long Beach, MS, the eye of the storm. My memories are clearer than yesterday: the sound of mighty trees falling to the weight of train-like winds, finding our family friend’s home a mountain of debris flattened by the gravity of a 30 foot storm surge, a pine forest toppled and stripped of all its needles to reveal a hemisphere filled by stars I’d never seen before.

I moved to California three weeks later to begin my freshman year at Stanford University. The golden campus was too pristine, perfectly groomed, and foreign to my world of beautifully molding, crumbling buildings, and the ubiquitous mud line and X’s tagged by search and rescue teams.

Afraid of being that “Katrina girl,” I focused on school, met great friends, and coped by converting my housemates to Zapp’s Spicy Cajun Crawtators and Abita Amber enthusiasts. Always it was as if I was attached to New Orleans by a 2,250 mile long string; at any point someone could pull it and I could choke.

Ultimately it was the constant feeling of being very, very, VERY far away that led me to visual art as a way of voicing to the Stanford community the struggle and beauty of human spirit that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast represented to me. I got a grant for a public art installation. I had friends and family ship me boxes of storm detritus and friends and I built a temporary, interactive memorial in the heart of campus.

In perfect universal sympathy and accord, in our process of drilling the seven wooden beams that were intended to represent devastated homes, we burst three irrigation lines and flooded the surrounds.

In the end, the project became greater than me. I’d rallied Stanford faculty members, artists, engineers, and landscapers to push the project forward. My mom and brother traveled across the country to attend the unveiling and joined my best friends to stay with me into the wee hours of the night painting and nailing together the sculpture. Most importantly, we hung Sharpies on the back of the installation so that anonymous visitors could reflect, leave comments, and become a part of the artwork.

Since then I have grown deeper in my commitment to the artist’s essential voice. Editing the current NOLA DIASPORA issue gave me a chance to reconnect with a few artists from my class at NOCCA whom I’ve always admired. Eight years later, we are all pursuing artistic careers and in our owns ways, exploring and imagining the architecture of our culture: Bonnie Maygarden through her hyper-realist depictions of manufactured materials, distorted and fragmented; Louis Braquet through surreal, erotic, glowing landscapes; Carlie Trosclair through installations that transform spaces with peeled, ripped, textured papers and fabrics.

The experience of the storm also captured the hearts and minds of those who came to our side to help rebuild. This issue shows the impact of the storm on their consciousness as well. Jason Andreason’s newfound archeology and Christopher Allen Varlock’s diorama speak to our collective memory of the structures, keepsakes, and mementos of our post-Katrina days.

Enjoy the perspectives on Katrina from those of us 30 and under. Even eight years later, the spirit of rebirth continues to flame with the kindling of memories, culture, and the fullness with which all New Orleanians pledge to live.

Sarah Woodward

Katrina Installation I, Stanford, CA
© 2007
Media: Mixed Media

No reproduction of this material, in any form or medium, is permitted without express permission of the artist.

Sarah Woodward, Guest Editor for this edition, is a New Orleans native who spends her days as a muralist, arts educator, gallery owner, and activist in San Francisco. Her passion for arts and culture is rooted in the spirit of her hometown. Her artistic career began in high school, when she attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA). Moving to California to attend her first year at Stanford University two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit, Sarah’s heart never left home and in 2007, she created a sculptural, public art installation on Stanford's campus to raise awareness about the storm and its aftermath. She later worked with an art therapist in New Orleans helping children affected by the storm. Her commitment to New Orleans, the arts, education, creativity, and social justice continues.