Jessica, Courtney & Bryan

  • Jessica, Courtney & Bryan, New Orleans, LA

“I might not know my story, but I know I have a story. I’m pretty sure it’s not the same story that’s being told because it’s not being told by the people I look like. I’m just trying to take the small things I have inside and make them shine through brightly, so I can make my own people proud.”

Jessica’s story:

I’m a member of Axiom Artist Collective. That’s how I met the rest of my team. I’m from New Orleans, downtown, the Ninth Ward. My people, my grandparents, they’re from the Sixth Ward, the Treme area. It’s one of the oldest neighborhoods in the country. Culturally, you can tell a lot about us from our style of speaking. We’re closer to the water, so we have a Southern drawl. If we travel, just even on the outskirts like Baton Rouge, they’ll say, “Say something again,” or, “You’re not from here, huh?” They’ll instantly know that we’re not from anywhere out there. They’ll know we are from New Orleans. Also, our food. I don’t want to sound like a commercial and say gumbo, but yeah, gumbo. Red beans and rice on specific days. Like Monday’s are red beans and rice Mondays. Crawfish, too.

What else? Music wise, it’s in us. It’s nothing that’s taught, it’s already in you. Like spiritually in you, to move your feet. You’ve got nine, seven, eight year olds in the French Quarter tapping their feet. At four, just tapping their feet, ready to play that instrument, whatever it is. It’s in you. I guess it’s in us. It’s heavy in our schools, our marching bands. High school bands are so competitive. You have like 150-200 people. It used to be 100 was the standard. Now they’ve got a 150-piece bands. 200-piece. And these are high school bands, at that. The crews are just so competitive. It’s all friendly at the end of the day. We come up in music. I can play music but I can’t read music. I never even tried to learn how to read notes, but I can play them.

This is historical being from New Orleans. Bo Dollis is a big chief, one of the Indians in the city. I’m doing a commemoration piece of Jazz Fest. He had a big role in Jazz Fest. Each year, they honor anybody who’s transitioned. That’s what I’m painting.

I will pass on our culture. The second line is the music, the slang. I want my children to carry it with them, but not be limited to it. Just embrace it, wherever they go, because a lot of people are ashamed of where they’re from. Be proud. Be proud of it. I was in the storm, Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I was three months pregnant with my child. I was due in February, 2006. I literally moved from Houston so that New Orleans can be on my child’s birth certificate. All three, I have three children now. I was traveling back and forth. I made sure that I had my children here. I didn’t want any other city on their birth certificate, so they know where they are from, because I love my city. There’s no other place like New Orleans. There’s no other place. If there is, I want somebody to tell me, and show me. I’ll go visit, but I doubt it.

Courtney’s story:

I was born in the Ninth Ward, across the canal. My entire family on my mom’s side is from the Ninth Ward, the Desire Projects. My grandmother is from this neighborhood, from the thirteenth. But I can’t trace past my grandparents, I never knew their parents, and none of their stories. I just know the Desire Projects. The family tradition is a cultural tradition. Different people’s stuff might taste different, but they all cook the same stuff, pretty much. I feel like I know how to make some of that stuff just from seeing it done all the time.

What inspires my art? People. I love faces. I love painting faces and eyes. The windows to the soul. I’m in a mix between giving people what they want to see, and doing what I want to do. I paint a lot of stuff that’s very cultural based. Like the Superdome and gumbo pieces. What I mainly like to do is paint African images, specifically women. Just real tribal type stuff. I’m so drawn to that. Just seeing what you grew up seeing on television. Then, seeing those same faces in women you grew up with. Just trying to bridge the connection. Of course, all my African knowledge is real vague. Because I’m not connected to it directly. I’m not connected physically, but it’s mentally there.

I know history screws up a lot of stuff. Depending on which people are in control. I might not know my story, but I know I have a story. I’m pretty sure it’s not the same story that’s being told because it’s not being told by the people I look like. I’m just trying to take the small things I have inside and make them shine through brightly, so I can make my own people proud. I’m just as proud, knowing the little bit I do know and see. I don’t know a lot of specifics, but just trying to represent it right.

I wouldn’t want my child to be raised anywhere else, I feel like I turned out pretty good. I want them to be raised to be aware of how much stuff goes on in front your face that you don’t have a clue about. I would want to be there, to guide them through what I learned, like my mom did for me. She made sure I understood everything I was doing. She always trusted me. That’s why I’m the way I am now. I would want to instill the same thing in my kids.

Bryan’s story:

I’m from New Orleans. I can go back as far as my great-grandmother who came from Honduras. They didn’t pass anything to me, but some of my family are deep into the Honduran family. They go back often. I’m planning a trip this year with my family, to go visit Honduras. The other half I’m not really sure. I’m sure Africa is somewhere in there. I’m not 100% sure.

I have a kid on the way. I do want to teach him. I want to learn with him, about who I am. My Honduran side and my other side, whatever that may be. I plan on doing that, as far as teaching my child the importance of knowing who he is, where he comes from, and where he will be going in his life. It’s exciting. I’m excited to even be able to think about me doing that with my kid.

All of our stories are a part of the American Story. What's Yours?

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