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Botanica: Gardens, Landscapes, and Plant Medicines in South Louisiana

Botanica: Gardens, Landscapes, and Plant Medicines in South Louisiana 

The Cabildo
Thu, April 25, 2024

This exhibition explores the cultural meaning of Louisiana medicinal plants and how historically based understandings of them are evolving under the threat of climate change and land loss. Guest curators Rachel Breunlin and Monique Verdin are collaborating with herbalists, artists, gardeners, and scholars to place into context stories of historical and contemporary gardens and natural environments.

Botanica is rooted in a series of interviews conducted by Rachel Breunlin and Monique Verdin as part of the Bayou Culture Collaborative, which operates under the auspices of the Louisiana Division of the Arts Folklife Program and the Louisiana Folklore Society. The Collaborative seeks to document cultural traditions as Louisiana faces land loss and a changing environment. As part of that project, Breunlin and Verdin interviewed a range of gardeners and plant specialists, including Tammy Greer, a United Houma Nation medicine wheel steward; mutual aid medicine makers from the Bvlbancha Collective; and Maypop Herb Shop folk herbalist Rachael Reeves. Through these interviews, excerpted at listening stations, along with historic and contemporary artifacts, photographs, and paintings from the Louisiana State Museum’s collection as well as from a few private lenders, the exhibition explores the history and understanding of medicinal plants, such as yaupon, Auricularia (jelly ear) mushrooms, and cleavers, in a range of rural and urban communities that draw on different cultural traditions, including those of Native peoples, Louisiana French cultures, and African Americans. Botanica weaves together these strands to immerse museum visitors in a world of Louisiana plants, traditional healing cultures, and the people, past and present, who make up those cultures.

Guest Curators

Rachel Breunlin is co-director of the Neighborhood Story Project (NSP), a nonprofit collaborative ethnography organization in partnership with the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the University of New Orleans (UNO). Since 2004, NSP has produced books, exhibits, events, and courses that share the complex stories of South Louisiana. Breunlin is also ethnographer-in-residence in the Department of Anthropology at UNO. 

Monique Verdin, a member of the United Houma Nation, is director of the Land Memory Bank and Seed Exchange, which is dedicated to inspiring and actualizing Mississippi River Delta preservation, restoration, and adaptations through cultural happenings, strategic installations, and a digital archive. 

Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes serves as an exhibit advisor and collaborator for Botanica. He is a former interpretive park ranger at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park Service’s Barataria Preserve and will work on a section of the exhibit dedicated to the historical and contemporary swamps of Louisiana.