Healing by design: Art, performance project to be unveiled tonight

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, September 13, 2017


NATCHEZ — A sculpture made from more than 750 pounds of Natchez-made soaps is just one feature of a local art exhibit launching today at the Angelety House on Saint Catherine Street.

Resulting from a yearlong collaboration between Louisville-based IDEAS xLab and the City of Natchez, the art exhibit and performance series aims to put cultural heritage on display through sculpture and photography.

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Today’s kickoff event will be from 6 to 8 p.m. and is open to the public free of charge.

The magnolia-scented soap used to construct the equity platform came from Scent of Natchez, run by Natchez artist and entrepreneur Ann Grennell. Grennell happens to be the sister of Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell, who also participated in the process.

IDEAS xLab’s Josh Miller said most of tonight’s festivities would revolve around the platform.

“(Tonight) is mostly about activating the platform … to explore cultural heritage of the neighborhood,” Miller said.

“Activating the platform” will begin with a performance of the Girls’n Pearls, a group of girls ages 8 to 18 who are mentored by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Southwest Mississippi Chapter.

The name “Girls’n Pearls” stems from soaps molded by the girls’ cupped hands. Artists then placed a single pearl inside the soaps along with a metal plate inscribed with a message to their future selves.

These molds also emerged from local hands — those of Natchez artists Johnnie and Loraine Griffin.

The girls’ performance is entitled “We’ll Rise Up,” and will consist of spoken word, singing, hip-hop and stepping.

Local photographer Mack James also worked with the Girls’n Pearls to produce a PhotoVoice production, which is a method combining photography and writing to represent life experience and perspective.

The platform will eventually be cut into between 2,000 and 3,000 individual bars of soap, which will have small, hand-carved wooden buttons inserted into the soaps. The soaps will be made available for the public to purchase

Natchez artist Johnnie Griffin and his grandson Daniel J. Hartwell carved the buttons from magnolia wood, which Miller said was one of the most commonly found artifacts at the Forks of the Road after the former slave site was torn down.

Miller said people who receive the bars can use the soaps, but will then have an opportunity to use the objects within the soaps.

“We then encourage people to sew the button onto something that they wear as a way to be able to engage people in a dialogue around pieces in the history of our nation that we don’t often confront,” Miller said.

Brazilian artist Cadu co-created the equity platform, Girls’n Pearls Soap sculpture and the button soaps.

“I enjoy the idea that the soap can be (thought of) as a cultural material that can mold your body every day as a self-cleaning retool, which is something that reminds us (of) the importance of self care,” Cadu said.

The event will also feature music played by local DJ Shabila Adams.

The art exhibit and performance series is part of IDEA xLab’s Project HEAL (health, equity, art, learning), an initiative to “positively impact racial equity and to build new community wealth in black-owned businesses and organizations through capacity building in arts, culture and heritage tourism.”

Mayor Grennell said he supports the mission of the project and the potential benefit it could provide to the community.

“Project HEAL Natchez has been transformative in its approach to engaging arts, culture, and heritage in Natchez,” Grennell said in a press release.

“It has been amazing to witness the collaboration between so many different organizations and individuals throughout the community. Black and white; young and old; all brought together by artists to lift up the cultural heritage narrative of the African-American community while seeking to expand economic opportunities, especially as it relates to tourism.”

The series will also feature more events this weekend:

  • A second exhibit from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday at Angelety House (free). The exhibit will feature the same lineup less the “We’ll Rise Up” performance.
  • “Saint Catherine Street — Where Heritage Comes Alive,” 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at Miss-Lou Heritage Group & Tours at 199 St. Catherine St. ($10 at the door)
  • PhotoVoice Exhibit: My World, My View, My Natchez, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday at ArtsNatchez Gallery at 425 Main St. (free)

Project HEAL Natchez is sponsored by a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant, with additional support from Humana Inc., the MS Humanities Council and the We Shall Overcome Fund.