New Orleans artist is bringing “Art in the Time of Empathy” to help the community get through the pandemic

“Art in the Time of Empathy” will be on display until December 19th. It can be viewed at the Arthur Roger Gallery at 432 Julia Street in New Orleans

by Thanh Truong for WWL

NEW ORLEANS — Early in the pandemic, the Arthur Roger Gallery sent out a mass invitation to artists in New Orleans and around the world. The gallery didn’t quite know what to expect. At the time, many of us were still trying to grasp what COVID-19 would bring.

“We really left it open to the artist to how they would like to express themselves in 2020. So, we have many pieces that are symbolic of the many different changes as a nation as a culture, as a world,” said Stephen Hawkins with Arthur Roger Gallery.

“Art in the Time of Empathy” is an exhibit featuring the work of more than 70 artists, but two themes seem to dominate: racial justice and the pandemic. Two pieces are from the hands of Demond Melancon.

“Out of the bad things, I don’t stop sewing man, and I stop beading. I don’t stop creating. So as artists, out of ugliness we’re supposed to create beauty and what we want the world to be,” said Melancon.

Melancon is also a Mardi Gras Indian big chief. The meticulous beadwork often found in Mardi Gras suits are the basis for his salute to health care workers. In another work, Melancon blended beads and color for vibrant face masks. He says he wanted to show something so polarizing could be beautiful.

“I saw on the news, people were down on the mask, so I told my wife, I’m going to bead some masks that are going to be so crazy and beautiful where someone is going to want to wear a mask,” said Melancon.

COVID may be a common threat but it affects us differently. The same applies to the art. While Melancon chose to use beads and bold color, Jacqueline Bishop chose to feature one color: alizarin crimson. She says it seemed to reflect how the Coronavirus is limiting people’s lives.

“It limits their thinking, their lifestyle, limits their food, limits their activities and I just felt compelled to limit everything in the studio. I wanted to use what was there but on a limited basis. I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring,” said Bishop.

Bishop often focuses on the relationship between people and the environment. She says as our busy lives slow down, perhaps the natural world can catch its breath.

“The landscape is even more special and in certain places of Louisiana, it’s probably become cleaner, certain parts of the world have become cleaner,” said Bishop.

Other works include portraits of frontline warriors. There is a dazzling and rotating disco ball like creation with COVID crowns. Then, there are the simpler messages around what you could call a COVID hot dog stand. Cards on rack nearby read “I’m sorry for your loss”. The labels on the cart read like a rundown of 2020 and what a year it’s been, in life and now in art.

“Art in the Time of Empathy” will be on display until December 19th. It can be viewed at the Arthur Roger Gallery at 432 Julia Street in New Orleans.