L. Kasimu Harris: Vanishing Black Bars & Lounges

Feb 11, 2022 — Jul 30, 2022

For several generations the black owned bars and lounges on St. Bernard Avenue in New Orleans’s 7th Ward were mainstays of the community. They were safe spaces for refreshment in an otherwise hostile world that allowed for the development of a strong community and many beloved forms of cultural expression. Now, as those lounges struggle to stay open and many become white-owned, it is unclear what will happen to the neighborhood. The photographer L. Kasimu Harris is documenting these bars and lounges before it is too late and asking the question, “what happens to the culture when it is displaced?” It is unclear if second lines or Mardi Gras traditions can persist and change in the 7th Ward without these important cultural anchors Harris is documenting. What will be lost or never develop without them?

This exhibition is influenced by the work of Roy DeCarava and Birney Imes. DeCarava’s work documenting everyday life during the Harlem Renaissance is an easy inspiration to understand. Imes’ eye for composition, color, and love of Jook Joints is important as well, but is slightly more complicated. His reverence for black culture is clear, but his perspective as a white man is that of an outsider. From an artistic standpoint Harris’s Vanishing Black Bars & Lounges is an opportunity to honor his influences, while also creating an empowered oeuvre that is narrative driven and based on the culture of a city from which he hails. Taken as a whole, this series of photographs is a beautiful, bittersweet, and inherently human call to document and understand a tradition that is and was crucial to the vibrant cultural tradition of New Orleans. 

Among the institutions that have exhibited L. Kasimu Harris’s work are the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, August Wilson African American Cultural Center, New Orleans Museum of Art, Ford Foundation Gallery, Lowe Art Museum, Museum of the African Diaspora, and Museum of Contemporary Photography. A prolific writer and photographer, his images or words have appeared in The New York Times, Bitter Southerner and publications by the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, as well as Aperture. Harris earned his MA in Journalism from the University of Mississippi and was recently an artist-in-residence at the Joan Mitchell Center and the Center for Photography at Woodstock. 

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