An army from the past, forged of descendants of enslaved Africans, collides with the present in a re-animation of the largest slave rebellion in North American history.
Renowned artist Dread Scott and Antenna, a New Orleans-based arts organization, are working together to present Slave Rebellion Reenactment, a community-engaged performance that will bring to life a suppressed history of people with an audacious plan to organize, take up arms, and seize Orleans Territory. In this area of land stretching across most of present day Louisiana, the rebels of the 1811 uprising were determined to fight not just for their own emancipation, but to end slavery. It is a project that will animate a revolutionary vision of freedom that creates a space for viewers and participants to dream: What if …?
The artwork will be a startling sight; 500+ Black people, many on horses, armed with machetes and muskets, flags flying, some in militia uniforms, others in 19th century French colonial garments, singing in Creole to African drumming. Over two days and 26 miles, this army of the enslaved will march the original route of the 1811 rebellion along the east bank of the Mississippi River. Formerly the site of decadent plantations, the route now passes heavy industry, gated communities, small businesses, low-income housing, big box-style stores, and other characteristics of everyday life. As the rebellion proceeds through this richly layered space, the historical confluences between past and present will create an ever-shifting dialogue that encourages viewers to re-think long-held assumptions. The ending of SRR will intentionally interrupt the timeline of history on which it’s based to culminate in a celebration featuring a public commemoration of the enslaved rebels who sacrificed their lives and a community celebration of Black cultural expressions of freedom through music and performance.
A key element to slave revolts was the organizing by small groups of trusted individuals who met clandestinely to plot with others in small cells. Mirroring this structure, SRR is initiating several recruitment and organizing meetings of multiple small groupings of people to prepare for the enacted uprising. These meetings will be part of the artwork—a performative reenactment of history. Taking the form of conversations about why people choose to participate and about others they might want to involve, the self-organization of the reenactors will be an essential part of the artwork. In addition to the live reenactment, SRR will have film and photo documentation that will bring this project to broader audiences.
In excavating and animating what is a largely unknown yet vital part of our history, this project aspires to encourage people of all races to broaden their view of what is possible.
Why should I support this project?
The enslaved rebels of 1811 had the most radical view of freedom in America at the time. To be free required the overthrow of the system of slavery. Slave Rebellion Reenactment can bring this bold spirit of freedom and emancipation into our present.
We can only make this re-enactment through a broad base of individual and organizational collaborators who will help bring the project to life. The support of individuals like you who believe in the project’s vision of emancipation is vital. Having worked over several years to research, organize, and set the proverbial gears in motion, we need your help down the home stretch of production. Your contribution will support many facets large and small between now and the presentation of Slave Rebellion Reenactment in November 2018: costume creation and prop acquisition, organizer and reenactor recruitment (all of whom will receive a modest honorarium for their participation), local historical consultation, film and photo crews, on-site accommodations for participants, and more.
To support this project is to believe in the power of art to show us the uncompromising right of freedom by any means necessary. By embodying those who fought for an end to all slavery, we can return a history that was suppressed by slave owners and white supremacy, to its rightful place amongst people struggling to end oppression and be free.
About Dread Scott
Dread Scott makes revolutionary art to propel history forward. His work is exhibited across the US and internationally. For three decades he has made work that encourages viewers to re-examine unifying ideals and values of American society. In 1989, the entire US Senate denounced and outlawed one of his artworks and President G.H.W. Bush declared it “disgraceful” because of its transgressive use of the American flag. His art has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum, MoMA/PS1, the Walker Art Center and galleries and street corners across the country. His works can be hard-edged and poignant. Dread plays with fire—metaphorically and sometimes literally—as when he burned $171 on Wall Street and encouraged those with money to burn to add theirs to the pyre.
Antenna is a New Orleans-based, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to being a vital participant in the life of the city through the creation and support of artist- and writer-driven programs. In its role as an engine for cultural production and a resource for creative practitioners, Antenna incites and supports creative efforts with transformative approaches to effecting environmental, racial, social, and economic justice. Antenna pursues its mission through a robust slate of multidisciplinary programming that includes exhibitions, events, publications, and arts education.
Slave Rebellion Reenactment is/has been supported in part by: A Blade of Grass Foundation, Socially Engaged Artist Fellowship; Antenna; Art Matters; The Givens Foundation for African American Literature; The Kindle Project; The Joan Mitchel Center; The MAP Fund/Creative Capital; The McColl Center for Art + Innovation; Open Society Foundations; Smack Mellon as well as generous contributions from individual donors.
This project has been selected for inclusion on Art Basel’s curated page on Kickstarter.
Risks and challenges
A project of this size, scope, and organizing process--being largely self organized and including over 500 individuals and numerous organizational partners--certainly presents its logistical challenges. But these same characteristics are what provide confidence for its success by offering everyone involved with a vested and essential stake in the project. To this point there has been overwhelming local support for the project; people aren’t participating for Dread Scott or Antenna, but out of a belief in the importance of embodying this history of resistance in the present. As such, the rebel army will march rain or shine!
We’ve worked hard to set the table for success by forging partnerships with local groups who have been working for years to preserve this history, working with an experienced costume designer and fabricator, liaising with local authorities, and more. And with over 11 years of working on collaborative projects in the region, Antenna has proven its ability to adjust on the fly to various challenges that might arise.
Some video segments courtesy A Blade of Grass Foundation—production and editing done by RAVA films. Portions edited by Raul Paz-Pastrana.
Video music: The Wild Bamboulas courtesy Bamboula 2000
- (35 days)