The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, an affiliation of the University of New Orleans, houses the largest collection of southern art in the world. As part of Prospect 2, the city-wide art biennial going on now until January 29, 2012, the fifth floor of the Ogden is hosting a selection of works by Ashton Ramsey. Ramsey is a New Orleans local and a self-described “folk artist historian,” maker of “costumes of paper hats,” and a “story teller and reader.”
Ramsey’s artistic endeavors grew from helping to sew his brother’s Mardi Gras Indian costumes as a child. Since he did not have the money to be an Indian himself, he started constructing suits from easily sourced, cheaper items. I noticed Bible verses, newspaper clippings, and common items like Mardi Gras beads covering the men’s suits on display. Each suit featured an accompanying pair of glittery “sunglasses” that spelled out a message, such as “FREEDOM.”
Ramsey’s wearable art gives us a glimpse not only into national African American history (one suit featured news related to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) but also into the history of prominent African Americans in New Orleans. There are special “poster biographies” dedicated to local legends that have passed away like Snooks Eaglin and Ernie K-Doe, for example. I found one suit dedicated to Haiti and the victims of the earthquake particularly interesting, and there was even a suit covered in the names of New Orleans businesses, like The Ritz and Circle Food Store. I loved that you could really feel the flavor of our local culture by skimming the words, phrases and pictures that Ramsey used. It was apparent that he is heavily influenced by Mardi Gras Indians, Treme, second line parades, and local street music.
Five full suits are on display at The Ogden, along with collages, poster biographies, photos of Ramsey himself wearing his creations, and inspirational quotes pieced together from magazine clippings. Admission to the museum grants you access to the entire five floors of exhibits. See the Web site for hours and visitor information.
All photos by Nikki Carter.