Only a handful of people have walked through Brandan Odums’ graffiti masterpiece “Project Be,” a series of bigger-than life portraits of civil rights heroes painted on the walls of the ruined Florida public housing complex in the 9th Ward. Photos of the work have made it possible for many more to appreciate the project from a distance, but Odums’ suite of stunning paintings has special power when viewed inside the empty, once-flooded buildings.
Unfortunately, the site is off-limits to the public. The dilapidated pastel townhouses where the murals are located are scheduled to be demolished and redeveloped in 2014.
What if, however, the custodian of the buildings, the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), would join forces with a local art organization to make a weekend tour possible? The art organization that jumps to my mind immediately is Prospect New Orleans, the folks that brought us Prospect.1, the phenomenal citywide art exhibit that took place in 2008.
Prospect New Orleans is going to present another big international show in the fall of 2014. In the meantime, they plan to whet the appetite of the Crescent City public with educational programs and other preliminary projects.
A weekend tour of a civil rights-oriented series of graffiti murals in a flood-ruined, old-style, public housing complex sounds like a teaching moment to me. And Odums’ paintings would tie in perfectly with Prospect New Orleans’ plans to exhibit works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, a graffiti tagger turned New York art scene superstar.
Sure, somebody would have to sweep up the broken glass in the Florida complex apartments and carpenters would have to replace broken steps, but with plenty of security and volunteer guides to help visitors safely navigate the site, it could be done.
The artwork is undeniably a product of trespassing. But, as far as I know, no one was harmed and no property was damaged – if you allow that the property was already slated for demolition. Anyway, civil disobedience is an American tradition, right? Without it, there would have been no civil rights movement. I’d agree that illegal graffiti shouldn’t be encouraged, but this was hardly what I’d call an antisocial enterprise.
A tour of Odums’ paintings is worth doing.