Artist's statement - Mardi Gras​

The first use of the words 'Mardi Gras' in Louisiana was in 1699, when Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville, named a bend in the river "Pointe du Mardi Gras," in honour of that year's Fat Tuesday. The early colonists of the Big Easy (as New Orleans is known) rarely celebrated as life was brutal and unrelenting. By the time masked balls were popular in the 1750s, Mardi Gras was already being celebrated by street maskers and processions. It was they who first started throwing sugar-coated peanuts. The marching groups or "Krewes" then started introducing the Mardi Gras beads in 1921. It was the Cowbellian Society in Alabama that inspired the "Pickwick Club" to set up their own Mardi Gras organisation in the crescent city. More followed - led by wealthy white men, these gradually transformed into the events and processions we see today in New Orleans.

The colours green, gold and purple were introduced by the Rex Crewe in 1892. Initially all other groups were barred from entering, but eventually the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club were the first black African American parading Krewe. Women entered the fray as the Crew of Venus in 1941. All of this lead to the founding of the super Krewes we see today - Bacchus and Endymion for example in the sixties onwards.

New Orleans has small marching bands or Krewes and vast processions with up to three thousand people participating in each one! In 2018 there were thirty-five official Krewes, with many smaller ones just marching the streets, usually based around the French quarter which is the oldest part of the city. The spectacle of it all is overwhelming, extravagant, fun and awesome. But the sheer waste and rubbish left afterwards is difficult to stomach and justify. Mardi Gras is completely inclusive, all ages, creeds and colour take part, which makes for one hell of a street party!

The larger Krewes have multiple floats, some up to 248 feet long! They start work on the floats a whole year before the procession. Here one of the great designers and makers of the floats - Kern studios - starts with polystyrene, then coats it with papier mâché, before spraying and painting it.

The floats are made up of all sorts of characters, some real, some fictional and follow a theme for each year. Some are made of fibreglass and obviously last a lot longer.

It's seen as a privilege to be allowed on the floats and to throw beads and other items into the crowds. This stirs the crowds into a frenzy - all screaming at the Krewes to throw yet more at each of them in turn. The bigger Krewes have anything up to fifty floats in each procession. In between the floats are the marching bands and parade groups, all doing their best to get your attention as they go past.

Once the procession has ended the floats are stored in vast warehouses until they are used the following year. 

The smaller marching Krewes parade around New Orleans on foot,
following different routes. Most go through the French Quarter but will usually end up with an after party. Some of these are very exclusive and tickets are highly sought after.

This is the Marching Krewe of Barkus - celebrating everything to do with dogs.

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