The Boundary Between Light and Darkness

One important aspect I found when reading Solnit and Snedeker’s Unfathomable City was the apparent racial tension in the city after Katrina. There was an obvious boundary that law enforcement, government officials, and the media put between African American citizens and white citizens resulting in murder, hysteria, and moral ambiguity in a time when altruism was as valuable as currency. This boundary produced armed stand-offs between police and African Americans, botched autopsies, and the outright murder of African Americans who were only trying to help their families, such as Donnell Herrington.

After discussing Steve Prince’s “Katrina’s Veil: Stand at the Gretna Bridge” and Francisco Goya’s “Third of May 1808” in class, the boundary between light and dark, black and white, again, stood out to me.

With Goya’s piece, he plays with the light and dark aesthetic- the native Spanish citizens illuminated by light and the invading militant French army left in dark obscurity. This light, dark interplay shows Goya’s rage towards the immoral usurpation of an autonomous nation, Spain, by an allochthonous foe, Napoleon and the French army. From Goya’s perspective, a native Spaniard, it’s bad enough that Spanish blood is spilled, but it’s far worse that it is spilled in rebellion against a foreign nation. The light illuminating the Spanish rebels signifies their virtue for resisting French occupation and dying under unethical contexts as martyrs. The French shrouded in darkness displays their unethical militancy and murder against a sovereign nation and its citizens. Not only does the dark and light interplay illustrate who has the unequivocal moral high ground between the Spanish and the French, it sets up an “us and them” dynamic. The persecuted Spanish are shown in the light and the French are shown in black or darker colors; there are two separate countries, two cultures, two sets of values, one instance of power’s abuse.

Moving to Steve Prince’s piece, there is the more general black and white interplay. What I found interesting about this work was how I couldn’t look at one part of the print without my eye immediately being drawn somewhere else. When I would look at the suited horses at the top, the same lines appeared to flow into the people in the shopping cart, then over to the police/vigilantes and the dog, and around the print continuously. While I acknowledge that there is a black and white interaction going on here hinting at the racial divide in Katrina’s aftermath, it is a much different relationship than that of Goya’s work. The simple use of black and white here makes it harder to distinguish individual components of the work without careful viewing, more or less blending it together. For me, this spoke well to the post-Katrina New Orleans issues: people didn’t realize that they were a part of one country, one state, one city, one community. Like I mentioned, the media, federal, state, and local authorities were driving a wedge between citizens, making an artificial sense of “us and them” which plagued New Orleans in its weakest moment. Unlike Goya’s “Third of May 1808”, Prince’s work shows how, despite the racial tension present in America and specifically New Orleans in this moment, everyone is still connected through autochthony, a shared American experience. The blending of black and white here blends the people together, rather than ripping them apart while still showing how the post-Katrina issues were morally black and white, not grey and morally ambiguous.

 

 

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