Friday, January 22, 2010

Backyards & Beyond (copy)

As we pray to ease the suffering Haitians are currently experiencing, I took an opportunity yesterday to revisit the hardships Katrina caused by viewing the "Backyards and Beyond" traveling exhibit currently displayed at the Delta State University Museum & Archives building in Cleveland.

During the first days after Katrina struck, many Mississippians in the northern part of the state felt a sense of helplessness as the stories began to trickle up from the coast. Something horrible was happening in our backyard and we were powerless. Those who were on the coast at the time were left to find services and supplies as best they could from attending organizations. Does this sound familiar in the aftermath of Haiti's earthquake?

The exhibit "Backyards and Beyond" is the story of Mississippians who survived Katrina and attempted to clean up before services and supplies were in place. Some of the stories make you cry, some make you turn in disgust, and others will evoke a chuckle. One story had me fighting back tears.

After being rescued from her rooftop, a woman told of the 15 odd dogs that swam to her rescue boat. Other dogs remained on roof tops or swam away once seeing her German Sheppard. The rescue boat dropped them off at the top of a two story building, the bottom floor was filled with water, that remained their shelter until help arrive three days later. It was the thought of the dogs left behind that caused me to unhinge.

I should stop here and explain the layout of the exhibit. Upon entering a short video explains the reason for the exhibit. Apparently artist H. C. Porter could not sit idly by in Washington D.C. while her fellow Mississippians suffered. She boarded a plane the next day for the coast with a mission. She photographed and recorded as many stories as possible while fresh. She jokes that she is not a historian and used a $20 Wal-Mart recorder.

Porter took her material back to the studio and produced 50 pieces of mixed media portraits while listening to the stories. The exhibit contains 20 of those portraits with the individual's story located on the side. On the floor throughout the exhibit are life size photographs of debris as if walking around the bedraggled coast.

What does this have to do with books? The exhibit catalog is excellent with all 50 pieces of artwork and stories. If you cannot make it to the exhibit, check out Backyards & Beyond: Mississippians and Their Stories by H. C. Porter.

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