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New Exhibit Showcases African American Masking and Spirituality in Mardi Gras

NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana State Museum, working in collaboration with the renowned Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac in Paris, is excited to announce the opening of a new exhibition, Mystery in Motion: African American Masking and Spirituality in Mardi Gras. This new exhibition inside the Presbytère on Jackson Square examines the direct influence of multicultural spirituality within the carnival traditions of Black New Orleanians.

Due to the pandemic, you will not find many Black masking Indians on the streets this carnival season, but you will see their elaborate suits and learn about their use and inspiration inside the museum’s galleries. The exhibit will be on display in time for the Mardi Gras weekend, from February 13, 2021, through November 28, 2021, and will serve as the centerpiece of the museum’s planned programming to celebrate the 2021 carnival season.

“Mystery in Motion is a groundbreaking exhibition highlighting the vibrant carnival traditions of the Black community in New Orleans and it offers an excellent way to celebrate Mardi Gras safely during this current pandemic,” said Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser.

Mystery in Motion guest curators Kim Vaz-Deville, Ph.D., and Ron Bechet of Xavier University of Louisiana explore spirituality in Mardi Gras through the presentation of more than two dozen Black masking Indian suits, carnival costumes, and masking objects produced in New Orleans, juxtaposed with extraordinary African artifacts that are representative of the cultures, religions, and artistry that influenced their creation. These exceptional African objects will be on loan from the collections of the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac and Southern University at New Orleans.

“There is so much happening on Mardi Gras day, it is impossible to take in all the sights, sounds, and experiences. The intent of the exhibition is to offer an opportunity to contemplate the spiritual dimensions of African American Mardi Gras masking that are hidden in plain view,” said Kim Vaz-Deville, Ph.D.

“Some mysteries can be solved. The Mystery in Motion exhibition reveals to wider audiences the depth of meaning and sources of inspiration for some extraordinary carnival practices,” added Ron Bechet, Victor H. Labat Professor of Art at Xavier University.

After the exhibition’s run at the Presbytère, it will become part of a larger exhibition, Les Black Indians de la Nouvelle-Orléans, at the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, tentatively scheduled for 2022.

Additionally, several virtual events will be held in conjunction with the exhibition that are free and open to the public. On Tuesday, February 9 at 6 p.m., Kim Vaz-Deville, Ph.D., will be part of a virtual conversation about the exhibition, examining how African, Islamic, Native American, and European belief systems have fused to create a set of cultural and artistic practices that are unique to New Orleans and Carnival. Registration is required for the event as part of the Tulane Alumni Association’s “Mardi Gras Goes Virtual” series.

Every Wednesday, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on February 24 through March 31, teaching artist Ausettua AmorAmenkum will lead a dance course called African Dance in New Orleans: Online Course at the Louisiana State Museum. The six-week course will explore African traditions and influences on New Orleans culture and dance. To register visit the course’s event page.

On Thursday, February 25 at 6 p.m., you can join A Virtual Evening with the Curators: Mystery in Motion: African American Masking and Spirituality in Mardi Gras via Zoom as the guest curators share highlights from the exhibition and insights into the curatorial process with Louisiana State Museum historian Karen Leathem. Registration is available on the event page.

Finally, a special virtual blessing of the exhibition on opening day will be posted on the museum’s Instagram and Facebook pages. Be sure to “Like” and follow both pages to for details as they become available.

For more information on Mystery in Motion: African American Masking and Spirituality in Mardi Gras or guest curators Kim Vaz-Deville, Ph.D., and Ron Bechet, visit the Louisiana State Museum’s exhibit webpage.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Friends of the Cabildo, the Louisiana Museum Foundation, Xavier University of Louisiana, the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition and its companion website do not necessarily represent those of either the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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