It is only through the way in which we represent and imagine ourselves that we come to know how we are constituted and who we are. There is no escape from the politics of representation, and we cannot wield “how life really is out there” as a kind of test against which the political rightness or wrongness of a particular cultural strategy or text be measured.
– Stuart Hall
During the first months after Hurricane Katrina, the stakes were high for residents of New Orleans. We had just experienced a mandatory evacuation, and while the vast majority of residents were in exile, the city had been cordoned off by National Guard troops manning road blocks. Some of the early reports from national media quoted powerful people pondering an empty landscape, with tabula rasa or terra nullius fantasies, proclaiming radical demographic and political restructuring. There was a sense that the city was up for grabs. In planning a poster project, we wanted to make a direct statement that residents of New Orleans, and the Seventh Ward specifically, were deeply invested in their neighborhoods. The series Seventh Ward Speaks would speak to people outside as well as within the neighborhood, challenging them to reconsider their perceptions of the area and its residents. Our strategy was to defamiliarize the “community” of the Seventh Ward by including a wide range of people in the interview process and to concentrate on their experiences of creativity and activism.