Mystery in Motion Logo
Mystery in Motion: African American Spirituality in Mardi Gras is an exhibition on view at the Louisiana State Museum’s Presbytère on Jackson Square through November 28, 2021.

Guest curators Kim Vaz-Deville, PhD, and Ron Bechet of Xavier University of Louisiana explore spirituality in Mardi Gras through the presentation of more than two dozen Black masking Indian suits, carnival costumes, and masking objects produced in New Orleans, juxtaposed with extraordinary African artifacts that are representative of the cultures, religions, and artistry that influenced their creation. These exceptional African objects are on loan from the collections of the Musée du Quai Branly–Jacques Chirac in Paris and the African Art Collections at Southern University at New Orleans.

This exhibition originated with oral histories conducted with New Orleans culture bearers immersed in Black masking traditions. You can watch these video oral histories in their entirety by clicking on the link below.

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This digital companion site introduces you to some of the sights, sounds, and stories that Mystery in Motion presents.

The exhibition features exceptional creations that are unique to New Orleans’s Mardi Gras but also have much broader social relevance. These mysteries in motion are “solved” when understood as sartorial sanctuaries that convey both spiritual and political liberation. In defiance of displacement, oppression, and fear of untimely death, these garments communicate ideas about justice, transformation, healing, sensuality, and protection from life’s wicked unknowns. African Americans created these powerful carnival traditions that offer a celebration of hope and renewal each year.

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Additional Exhibition Resources (.pdf)

Video courtesy of Lexcie Thomas. In order of appearance: Ausettua AmorAmenkum, Big Queen of the Washitaw Nation, Downtown Super Sunday, 2018; Shaka Zulu, Big Chief of the Golden Feather Hunters, Uptown Super Sunday, 2018; Dow Edwards, Big Chief of the Timbuktu Warriors, formerly Spy Boy of the Mohawk Hunters, Uptown Super Sunday, 2018; Ivan Watkins, Wild Man of the Yellow Pocahontas, Downtown Super Sunday, 2018; Tremé Million Dollar Baby Dolls with the Spirit of Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors, Downtown Super Sunday, 2018.