The Matrix of Creativity: Where the River Meets the Sea

Welcome to the Afrofuture:
The Matrix of Creativity : Where the River Meets the Sea . New Orleans African American Museum.
July 1, 2021- July 30, 2022

(photo by C Freedom)

Welcome to the AfroFuture:

The Matrix of Creativity: Where the River Meets the Sea

curatorial statement

In a 1986 interview with Dr. Jerry Ward Jr. , New Orleans writer and griot, Tom Dent, Ward characterizes New Orleans as a “matrix for creativity.” The fugitive praxis of syncretism ( the combination of different religions or religious traditions into a new form) manifests throughout the continuum of this land’s history from the pre-colonial Mobilian trading language created by the numerous nations indigenous to this estuary, the Kouri Vini (Louisiana Creole) spoken by the descendants of enslaved Africans and Natives, to the spiritual invention of New Orleans gris gris and in the sound of brass, jazz, and bounce music.

The cosmology of the Bambara, a Mandé people, who made up a larger portion of the enslaved population in Louisiana than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere, is described in some detail in Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s Africans in Colonial Louisiana. “According to this cosmology, the universe, emerging from a moving void, undergoes a slow process of acquiring voice and vibration that eventually evolves into light, sound, creatures, actions, and human sentiments. The order of this universe is expressed arithmetically through numbers one through seven,  as is outlined in Cheikh Anta Diop’s, Civilization or Barbarism. Native to Mali and later stolen from the Senegambia region, the Bambara’s cosmology is designed to be transported across distance. 

In Flash of the Spirit, Robert Farris Thompson examines the word Mandekan word woron. Meaning to “get the kernel,” it encapsulates the process needed to master speech, song, music, or any aesthetic endeavor. Thompson goes on to outline the Mandé concept of reason, which relies on a balance of opposites, badenya (the conformist) and fadenya (the innovator). 

It is this tension between tradition and innovation that produces a culture always in flux, always moving, changing, and reinventing the world. For example:  the five hundred Black rebels in 1811 of various ethnicity, who envisioned a free New Orleans, a free Louisiana,  and an America free from slavery or the Natchez and Bambara nations, who just ten years after the Louisiana colony’s establishment,  conspired together to overturn it. It is both  the retention of key African cultural concepts and the space and ability to innovate in New Orleans that makes the city the perpetual site of what’s new and next on the horizon. 

As such, The Matrix of Creativity : Where the River Meets the Sea holds space for both traditional and new interpretations of who and what constitutes the work, history, and legacy of Afrofuturism.


Front Hall

(downstairs )

  1. “the primordial waters”

Sokari Ekine

Jameel Paulin

Dianne Baquet

•EKINE’s archives of fire and water mark a spiritual and aesthetic point of origin as well as Paulin’s African Fractals.

Feliciane and Child, Refugee from San Domingue by Dianne Baquet grounds these ideas in the historical by evoking the arrival of Haitians to New Orleans during and following the revolution.

Back Hall

“the bright earth”

These works reflect the vibrancy of life and its complexities.

Stephen Montinar’s Hopscotch, Kriss Kross, Double Dutch the Gunshots acts as a bridge from the primordial waters into the earthly plane.

Jacq Francois’ Hot Boy Fantastic is an embodiment of the individual who carries the stories and lineages represented in the work. A kind of meeting of Civil’s masks with a contemporary diasporic lens. Francois is also of Haitian descent via New Orleans.

Nik Richard juxtaposes and correlates the regal and passionate power of both his grandmother as Carnival Queen and a recreation of the now iconographic photo portraits of Tupac Shakur.Along with Richard, Sly Watt’s unimpressed and Tatiana Kitchen’s Above and Below function as the departure point of the matrix. Reminding the viewer to consider the realms of earth, heaven and spirit present in the work and their own private and creative lives.

reflecting an organizing principle of Vodou , upstairs hallways have a “hot” and a “cool” side.


  1. Exalting in the spirit”


Ryann Sterling

Soraya Jean Louis

Ryann Sterling and SORAYA’s Jean Louis’ altars anchor this portion of the Matrx of Creativity. Serving as a place for and a reminder of sacred spaces’ function in the diaspora as places for worship and preservation of historical and spiritual lineage.

Langston Alston’s large-scale intricate work evokes the life and spirit of the city, animating and representing  the physical embodiment of the work of the altars. Note the presence of archangels throughout his piece.

•Abstractions in Afrofuturism

Myesha Francis

Kennedi Andrus 

Khalid Thompson

Opens up spaces for the mind to contemplate its contents in the context of Afrofuturism. Thompson’s Gold Coast Records embeds silent sonic presence for the viewer. Myesha Francis and Kennedi Andrus’ lush uses of color and brush stroke evoke the beauty of the heart as it’s own form of consciousness.

Cheriyah Hill, Rodrecas Davis, and Ashley Firstley use collaging and new media art to enliven the use of photo and canvas with an Afrofuturist lens.

•Resting Place of Saints.

Khalid Abdel Rahman 

The tombs of Sufi Saints by Khalid Abdel Rahman calls the presence and spiritual principles of ancient architecture into the present.

Upstairs Room

  1. Realm of the Deities

(Textile and Texture)

Cherice Harrison-Nelson is steeped in a West African rooted ceremonial dress art tradition, unique to African American communities in New Orleans. She is the third of five generations in her family to participate in the cultural legacy passed down from her late father, Big Chief Donald Harrison, Sr. She is the co-founder and curator of the Mardi Gras Indian Hall of Fame. Currently, the organization is working to protect intellectual property rights through the, “You Get Paid, I Get Paid” mutual respect and fair use campaign. Her original creations are held in the private collections of Jonathan Demme (Academy award-winning director – Silence of the Lambs), Wole Soyinka (first African Nobel Prize Laureate for literature) among others. Her aesthetic approach to her suits, in her words, represent an indigenous approach to minimalism in the masking tradition.

Schetuana Powell

Evokes the Ghanaian trickster deity, Anansi. In the Ghanian myth Anansi spins a golden thread to reach the heavens. There Anansi asks his father for the permission to bring the stories to humanity.  In Sheppard’s iteration, Anansi, the figure, also holds the stories of many times, many families, many peoples. Anansi changes shape, changes stories, makes the necessary mischief to keep humanity innovative.

Eseosa Edibiri

“My work addresses a serious need for the representation of black and brown bodies translated into text and imagery and then used within textile-based work, such as weavings, latch hook, prints, and tufted pieces. The text utilized within my work is taken from conversations between myself and those dear to me being their most true selves who may be caught mid-laugh or in a captured playful pose.”

Bianca Walker

Developing an MFA thesis at the University of New Orleans Walker uses these drips as an integral part of their visual language while incorporating archival imagery of the African Diaspora activating a history  they can see being erased.

Lance Minto Strauss

Give Me Liberty…evokes the death of Malcolm X. We have this piece amongst the deities to reflect the ability of one human life to transcend mortal constraints.

Didier Civil

Didier Civil was born in 1973 in Jacmel, Haiti, a southern coastal town renowned for its carnival celebrations. He developed an interest in papier mâché at a very young age and learned about this art forme by studying Lyonel Simonis, a master artist and pioneer of papier mache mask making. Civil is a celebrated artist and mask maker in his own right. Civil makes fantastical to realistic paper mache masks and costumes, larger than life portraits and imaginative animals.


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