A look back at Katrina in poems and pictures
For 35 years, James Davidson lived peacefully and painted landscapes and skyscapes in New Orleans. Then the disruption, devastation – and despair – came in the form of Hurricane Katrina.
The powerful storm and its aftermath drove Davidson and countless others from New Orleans to new homes across the United States.
Davidson came to Tempe, and began painting again. At first, his paintings were full of anger and frustration, and awe at the power of the storm. But then the calmness of the desert began to seep onto his canvases.
Davidson’s work, along with that of artist Emily Dygert, photographer Rebecca Ross and poet Cynthia Hogue, will be featured at ASU Gammage beginning Aug. 11 in an exhibit titled “Reflections on the Storm: Five Years After Hurricane Katrina" that runs through Oct. 12.
Hogue, who holds the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry in the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Ross collaborated on a book titled “When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina,” which has just been published by the University of New Orleans Press as part of its Engaged Writers Series.
The exhibition at Gammage will include artwork by Davidson and Dygert, poems from the book by Hogue, and photos taken in New Orleans, Minnesota and Arizona by Ross.
The exhibit presents four very different – yet similar – views of Katrina’s legacy.
Davidson said that in Arizona, he is inspired by “the miraculous colors of skies and mountains,” and that his work has taken “a more peaceful turn.”
Dygert’s artworks from her “Rising from the Wreckage: Putting the Pieces Back Together” series feature a mosaic of color and textures that connect directly to her experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She created her artworks using natural materials and pieces of objects, both personal and found, collected from and near her storm-damaged home in New Orleans.
Much of her work speaks of the cycles of life, death and rebirth through the repeated use of elements such as eggshells, seeds and circles.
Through the metaphor of these found objects, textures and forms, she honors her past and investigates her own new life in Arizona, many miles from the life she once knew in New Orleans.
Ross grew up in Houston, experiencing “more than my fair share of hurricanes as a child,” she said.
After Hurricane Ike inflicted significant damage to her parents’ home and farm in Texas, she helped them make repairs, sell their property and move to Arizona.
“I had been in Houston, helping my parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary just a few days before Hurricane Ike struck. Since we'd had hurricanes for what seemed like forever, I helped them prepare – stock up with canned goods, bottled water, and nuts, fill the bathtub with water, ensure matches and batteries were on hand – and returned to Arizona,” Ross said.
“I received a static-filled phone call from my father, telling me a tree crashed through the roof and it was raining inside, but they were OK, and then the phone line went dead.”
During the months she helped her parents move, she often thought about what a luxury her parents had in their relocation, compared with many Katrina evacuees.
“They were able to methodically go through their possessions, deciding what to take or leave, as they willingly made their first move in 45 years,” Ross said.
“Overall, I am not sure the experience of Katrina changed my artwork, but through this project, my artwork connected me to people whose experiences have changed how I look at life and what is important.”
Hogue had lived in New Orleans a decade before Hurricane Katrina, teaching in the MFA program at the University of New Orleans. She began interviewing Katrina evacuees who came to Arizona, some of whom she knew in New Orleans, then received an Arizona Commission on the Arts Artist Project Grant for the collaborative project that became “When the Water Came.”
Hogue and Ross met at an opening for one of Ross’s shows after Hogue moved to Arizona seven years ago.
“When the Water Came” tracks 13 Katrina refugees who passed through, evacuated or relocated to Arizona.
Hogue created the poems from interviews with the evacuees. She used only their words, reordering and reshaping them to communicate the depth of their experiences and to highlight the poetry of their language.
Through her black and white, medium-frame photographs, Ross examined the evacuees’ recreated present and retraced their steps to relate a poignant sense of journey and beginning again.
Exhibit viewing hours at ASU Gammage are 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays, or by appointment. Due to rehearsals, event set-up, performances, special events and holidays, it is advisable to call (480) 965-6912 or (480) 965-0458 to ensure viewing hours, since they are subject to cancellation without notice.
Visitor parking is available at meters around the perimeter of ASU Gammage. Entrance is through the East Lobby Doors at the Box Office.
For more information, contact Brad Myers, (480) 965-6912.
“When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina” is supported in part by: Arizona Commission on the Arts with funding from the State of Arizona and the National Endowment for the Arts; City of Tempe, Arizona; Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University; Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University; Department of English at Arizona State University; and Ted Decker Catalyst Fund.
Note: Hogue and Ross will be featured at a reading/presentation from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., Sept. 7, at Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe. For more information call (480) 730-0205.