Did You Saw What I Heard?: Music Murals Tour
In the 2010s, when murals depicting New Orleans musicians started cropping up across the city, it seemed a shame that there hadn’t been more, everywhere, for ages. There’d been some–notably, the Mother-in-Law Lounge brightened North Claiborne Avenue beginning in the 1990s, and some corner stores featured little second lines on their walls–but this is a golden era.
The boom has dark origins: vacant buildings in the city in the years after Hurricane Katrina offered abundant exhibition space for anyone with a spray can. One of the city’s most celebrated artists, Brandan Odums, also known as BMike, rose to national repute following his work on the walls of an abandoned public housing development.
Odums conceives of his imagery, often of black activists and historical figures as well as musicians like Buddy Bolden, as part of a “transnational dialogue about the intersection of art and resistance.” For Odums and artist Courtney “Ceaux” Buckley, whose mural of Lil Wayne was featured in a Drake video in 2018, painting images of African-American culture in public space resists the reduced visibility of black social life in a gentrifying city.
New Orleans music is particularly well-suited to the form. Second lines and Mardi Gras Indians are public spectacles with an instantly recognizable visual vocabulary. Artists like Dr. John and Big Freedia cultivated distinctive looks as part of their stage performance. Beyond that, New Orleans music is often rooted in place: Sidney Bechet’s training on clarinet was a product of his Seventh Ward upbringing; Travis Hill’s brass band background was straight from the Sixth Ward. Paintings of them in these neighborhoods underline the connection.
In 2018, an organization called the NOLA Mural Project began matching artists with property owners offering wall space (the program circumvents what organizers consider an onerous public permitting process; their goal is to bring about a policy change). The resulting murals include images of Allen Toussaint and James Booker.
Of course, these murals are also A+ backdrops for selfies and social media posts. If you’re on the street taking photos, we invite you to keep A Closer Walk handy to read up on the artists and their relationship to these spaces.