RAFTERS (Hyppolite + Gilbert)
New Orleans Saints jerseys, sugar cane, sugar cane leaves, cotton, transatlantic slave shackles, machete, Haiti coat of arms plaque, plexiglass vitrine display case
When Portuguese ships sailed down the West African coast in the middle of the fifteenth century, their decision to identify human beings as a more valuable commodity than gold and spices would become humanity’s most heinous crime. Arguably more destructive to our coexistence than the actual oppression and mutilation of African and indigenous people were Europeans’ attempts to rationalize these acts, which led to the creation of race—a concept that historically made skin complexion a barometer for the treatment of others. As a result, since 1619, “Blackness” and Black bodies have been a foundational and omnipresent element in shaping capital and culture in the United States of America across the spectrum – from slavery, to music, to professional sports.
In 1811, Charles Deslondes, an enslaved African believed by many to be born in Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti), led what would become known as the 1811 German Coast Uprising. This rebellion became the largest rebellion of enslaved people in North American history but it was quelled before the revolters were able to overtake New Orleans. As a punishment and warning to other enslaved Africans in the territory, the majority of the surviving revolters were put on trial – some being lynched on different sites and plantations throughout the city and others being decapitated and their heads being placed on stakes along the levee of the Mississippi River.
Through the remixing of an NFL Hall of Fame case and the visual language associated with these types of displays, this selection of jerseys from my RAFTERS series seek to interrogate “value” and “acclaim” as constructs in an effort to spark reflection and discussion around the ways that Black bodies have been the most utilized colonial capitalist tool within Western culture and consciousness. I also seek to use these jerseys and this series to increase dialogue regarding the under discussed history of the 1811 rebellion while additionally illuminating the fleur-de-lis’ brutal period of being branded onto the bodies of runaway enslaved Africans. In addition to this indisputably being our city’s most prominent symbol, the simple fact that we have an entire football team of almost all Black players wearing this symbol on the same position of their bodies as their enslaved ancestors who could have been branded with it is devastatingly eerie.
Nic Brierre Aziz is a Haitian-New Orleanian interdisciplinary artist and curator born and raised in New Orleans, LA. His current practice is deeply community focused and rooted around the utilization of underdiscussed personal and collective histories to reimagine the future. In addition to his personal artistic practice, he currently serves as the Community Engagement Curator for the New Orleans Museum of Art. He has contributed to publications such as HuffPost, Terremoto and AFROPUNK and his work has been featured by The Oxford American, The Associated Press and The Alternative UK. He is also the recipient of several artist residencies and fellowships and most recently was selected as a 2020 Andy Warhol Foundation Curatorial Fellow and a 2021 Joan Mitchell Center Artist-in-Residence. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College and a Master of Science degree from The University of Manchester (UK).