Students Tell of Katrina’s Devastation through Their Art

Posted: October 13, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Deanna Kingsley says that when people think of Hurricane Katrina, their first thought is the damage that was done to New Orleans.

“The first thing I think about is Mississippi,” says Kingsley, a junior art and visual technology (AVT) major at George Mason.

Kingsley’s high school friend, Chanta Ramsey, has parents and other relatives who live in the Biloxi-Gulfport region of southern Mississippi. That region was also hit hard by Katrina in late August of 2005.

Kingsley made two trips to the Gulf Coast region earlier this year to take photographs of the damage caused by Katrina.

Her photos, along with those by fellow Mason students Corinne Freer and Greg Boyleston, are on display at the Arlington Arts Center through Oct. 28. The title of their collective work is “Residual Landscapes: Reflections on Katrina.” The exhibit opened on Oct. 10.

The reception for the artists will be today from 6 to 9 p.m. at the center, located at 3550 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Va. Freer is a senior AVT major, and Boyleston is a senior communication major. Kingsley has invited Ramsey, her friend who lives in Woodbridge, Va., to the reception on Oct. 13.

Photo titled baby stroller
This photo, titled “Baby Stroller,” is featured in the exhibit.
Photo by Corinne Freer

“I really wanted to open my classmates’ eyes to what was going on down there. I wanted to share that there isn’t too much going on” with cleanup in Mississippi, says Kingsley, who was a classmate with Ramsey at Potomac High School in Dumfries, Va.

Kingsley says that many people in Mississippi “felt like they were neglected by the media. It was really stressful for Chanta’s family.”

Freer took photos of the Katrina aftermath during a five-day trip to New Orleans in August, while Boyleston took photographs during his trip to the Gulf Coast during spring break last March.

In his artist’s statement, Boyleston wrote: “I was struck by the contrast between our experience and the locals’ experience. We came from a place of comfort and provision. We found ourselves in a place of extreme discomfort and insecurity. I saw residents in New Orleans who are surviving by clinging to their unique culture and their strong will to carry on. I hope that these images are able to convey the care in the midst of this tragedy, the contrast in the midst of the clean up, and the culture despite the flood.”

Freer was visiting a friend in New Orleans just days before Katrina hit. She took 30 rolls of film of the Katrina damage when she returned this summer; she turned in 18 images of the hard-hit Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans for the Arlington exhibit.

“The reason I chose these images to be in the show is because Lakeview was a predominately upper-class white neighborhood that received as much damage as the Ninth Ward, but was not publicized because many of the residents were able to evacuate; however, they were still digging bodies out of the rubbish in March of this year,” writes Freer.

“This neighborhood is still a ghost town a year later. There were literally miles and miles of abandoned homes. The air in Lakeview still reeks of mold and toxic waste. There are literally dozens of strip malls and shopping centers that are blocked off and may never be rebuilt. I want people to realize that after a year of ‘rebuilding’ the city is still a mess, and this particular neighborhood, rarely mentioned in the national news, is still in disarray. These are lives that have been destroyed and this community will never be the same.”

The Arlington Arts Center exhibit is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. The center is nearly equal distance from the Clarendon and Ballston stops on the Orange line of the Metro. The center phone number is 703-248-6800.

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