Mystery in Motion Exhibition Logo
The Presbytere
Greater New Orleans
New Orleans
Event Date: Sunday, February 14, 2021

In celebration of the opening of Mystery in Motion, join us for a virtual introduction and blessing of the exhibition. Guest curators Kim Vaz-Deville and Ron Bechet will lead a brief introduction followed by a blessing from Nana Sula Spirit, a Medicine Queen with the Spirit of Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors and Priestess of Mami Wata at the Temple of Light - Ile' de Coin-Coin in New Orleans and a prayer from Dr. Ansel Augustine, executive director of Cultural Diversity and Outreach for the Archdiocese of Washington and a member of the Wild Tchoupitoulas.

The video will be streamed on the museum’s Facebook page on Sunday, February 14 at 2pm and will also be available afterwards on the museum’s Facebook page and website.

The exhibition opens to the public on Saturday, February 13 at the Presbytere. Find more information here.

About the Exhibition

Color, sound, and energy fill the streets on Mardi Gras. African Americans have long used this annual ritual to express Black spiritual traditions. “A lot of what takes place for me on that day is almost like an out-of-body experience,” says Big Chief Shaka Zulu of the Golden Feather Hunters. Spiritual themes drawn from African, Islamic, Native American, and European systems of belief are the focus of this exhibition on African American masking traditions, including Mardi Gras Indians, Baby Dolls, and skeletons.

Mardi Gras Indians constitute one of the most vibrant carnival practices in New Orleans. African American men, women, and children adorn themselves with hand-sewn creations of feathers, beads, rhinestones, sequins, and other materials. In tribes, or gangs, they roam their neighborhoods, far removed from parades and tourists. There, they encounter skeletons and Baby Dolls, both reviving a practice that dates back more than a century. Maskers in skeleton suits and papier-mâché skull heads—most prominently represented today by the North Side Skull and Bones Gang—are out and about by dawn, awakening revelers with warnings to “get your life right.” Baby Dolls follow in the footsteps of African American working-class women who defied social norms in baby-doll costumes beginning in the 1910s. This Mardi Gras tradition thrived for decades but faded in the late twentieth century, only to be resuscitated in recent years. Today, Black masking Indians, skeletons, and Baby Dolls, along with individual maskers and traditional krewes Oshun and Nefertiti, all incorporate spiritual themes from a variety of sources, creating a profound ritual grounded in community and shared experience.

Guest curators Kim Vaz-Deville and Ron Bechet of Xavier University of Louisiana bring this topic to life through the presentation of more than two dozen suits, costumes, and masking components juxtaposed with African artifacts on loan from Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac of Paris and Southern University at New Orleans. The exhibition will also feature several dozen photographs, video projections, and video stations showing interviews with culture bearers.