Unless you've been to Mardi Gras, you've never seen the colorful beaded and feathered suits of the Mardi Gras Indians. Even then, you probably didn't get a glimpse of these works of art. This secretive culture doesn't publicize their parade dates, times, and routes, so the only way to see them would be to know someone who knows, or to randomly stumble upon one of the 42 tribes as they display their beaded finery in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday.
This Fall, however, you can get an up-close look at them in an exclusive exhibit at The Golden Triangle. From October 19 - December 31, the River North gallery is hosting the first exhibition of Mardi Gras Indian artwork ever held. "Revealing Mardi Gras Indians: Beaded Art of a Hidden Culture" is an historic event featuring 14 exhibits, ranging from full suits to beaded fragments, some as many as 20 years old.
The culture's story has been passed down from generation to generation. They began, so the most accepted telling goes, during the 1800s, when blacks were not allowed in krewes. The African Americans began celebrating in their own neighborhoods, and chose to honor the Native Americans that sheltered runaway slaves during colonization. By putting on masks and wearing Indian dress, they could pass as free men. It was also a way for this subjugated culture to define a place of its own.
From the House of Dance and Feathers, a museum in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans:
"Coming out of slavery, being African American wasn’t socially acceptable. By masking like Native Americans, it created an identity of strength. Native Americans under all the pressure and duress, would not concede. These people were almost driven into extinction, and the same kind of feeling came out of slavery, “You’re not going to give us a place here in society, we’ll create our own.” In masking, they paid respect and homage to the Native American by using their identity and making a social statement that despite the odds, they’re not going to stop." ~ Ronald Lewis, former Council Chief of the Choctaw Hunters, a Mardi Gras Indian tribe he helped to start.
The encounters between the tribes were often violent - "masking" meant grudges could be settled with little chance of repercussion. But in the late 1960s, Big Chief Allison "Tootie" Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas tribe helped sway his fellow revelers to a more peaceful form of competition. Now, they out-do each other with their suits, and the true winner is anyone who gets to view these works of art.
The hand beaded suits themselves take months to create, cost thousands of dollars, and can weigh a hundred pounds. And now, for the first time, you can see some of them firsthand at this unique exhibit.
“With interesting stories behind every beaded artwork adorning spectacular feathered ‘suits,’ The Mardi Gras Indians are a critical part of New Orleans culture. I am honored and humbled to play a role with The Golden Triangle to introduce one of the oldest African-American original art forms to a national audience”, says Ruth Sladovich, Curator.
The Golden Triangle is a modern and antique furniture and design destination dedicated to the preservation of culture and sharing of global traditions. 10% of all proceeds will go to the 300Forward.
About The Golden Triangle
Focused on Asian antiques in its early years, The Golden Triangle has evolved into an 18,000 square foot global design resource. For more than 27 years, owners Douglas Van Tress and Chauwarin Tuntisak have hand-selected vintage and modern furnishings from around the world. Assembled in curated vignettes, the eclectic mix of Asian and European antiques, artifacts, artwork, lighting, and other accessories prove there are no boundaries or limitations in decorating. From designers and trade professionals, to collectors or simply curious shoppers, The Golden Triangle welcomes all intrigued individuals. The Golden Triangle hosts exhibitions and cultural events throughout the year. Please visit goldentriangle.biz to shop collections and for updates on special events.
All photos courtesy The Golden Triangle