Big Chief Demond Melancon

Born 1978 in New Orleans, USA
Lives and works in New Orleans

Art Gallery of New South Wales

Africa 2011
Spirit of Red Cloud and Sitting Bull 2013

Michal Pietrzyk (director)
Excerpts from
All on a Mardi Gras day 2019
video, 3:47 min
Courtesy the director

glass beads and rhinestones on canvas with velvet and feathers
Presentation at the 24th Biennale of Sydney was made possible with generous support from Terra Foundation for American Art
Courtesy of Arthur Roger Gallery

The Black Masking culture of New Orleans is linked to the cultural traditions of enslaved people and the earliest First Nations people of Louisiana; today, it endures as a thriving display of dance, community, craftsmanship and pride.

On the morning of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the neighbourhood streets are filled with the beating of Black Maskers’ drums as they emerge from their homes, confronting one another in ceremonial battles to see who is the ‘prettiest’. Adorned in intricately constructed ‘suits’, the Black Maskers of New Orleans represent over two centuries of connection between African Americans and First Nations people.

Part of a suit worn by the artist for Mardi Gras parade, Big Chief Demond Melancon’s Africa depicts Zulu warriors, drawing connections between African and First Nations traditions. A large red apron, titled Spirit of Red Cloud and Sitting Bull, depicts two great First Nations leaders, Chief Red Cloud and Chief Sitting Bull. Fighting together in the Red Clouds War (1866–68), they led their respective armies in what was the worst military defeat suffered by the United States on the Great Plains (present-day Dakotas). Worn for the first time when Melancon became Big Chief of the Young Seminole Hunters, it is easy to imagine that the Chiefs’ spirits accompanied the artist–warrior as he journeyed out at dawn on Mardi Gras morning.

Read more about the 24th Biennale of Sydney, Ten Thousand Suns, by purchasing the catalogue here.