Slave Rebellion Reenactment (SSR) is a large-scale, community-engaged art performance and film production reimagining the largest rebellion of enslaved people in the United States. Set along the River Parishes in Louisiana, this 26-mile roving performance will travel from LaPlace to Kenner, retracing the route of the historic 1811 slave uprising, and concluding in New Orleans at Congo Square on November 8-9, 2019.
SRR will animate a suppressed history of people, who had an audacious plan to organize among other enslaved people to, take up arms and seize the Territory of Orleans in the early 19th-century, They fought not just for their own emancipation, but to end the institution of slavery. SRR is an art and social history project about freedom.
The Reenactment will take place upriver from New Orleans in the locations where the German Uprising, or what is commonly referred to as the 1811 Slave Revolt, occurred. This performance project will involve hundreds of reenactors in Antebellum-style clothing walking for two days, covering a 26-mile stretch along Louisiana’s historic River Road--an area once lined with approximately 350 plantations ranging from simple farmhouses to grand mansions before the American Civil War. The exurban communities and oil and gas industries that have replaced theses cotton, sugar cane, and rice plantations will be its backdrop. The Reenactment will be an impressive and startling sight—500+ Black people, many on horses, armed with machetes and muskets, flags flying, in 19th-century styled garments worn by enslaved people, singing in Creole to African drumming.
There was limited fighting during the 1811 rebellion, so, in contrast to many war reenactments, much of SRR will be a procession, with only occasional skirmishes. The procession will be jarringly out of place as they advance past neighborhoods, strip malls, and oil refineries. This historic anomaly will form a cognitive dissonance for viewers, opening space for people to rethink long- held assumptions and engage the intentional erasure of a history of Black resistance freedom.
A key element of slave revolts was the organizing of the uprising by small groups of trusted individuals, clandestinely plotting with others in small cells. Mirroring this structure, SRR will initiate recruitment and organizing meetings of multiple small groupings of people to prepare for the reenacted uprising. Extending the artwork’s performative reenactment of history, the meetings will take the form of conversations about why people choose to participate, about others they might involve, and why this history is important in contemporary society. The self-organization of the slave rebel reenactors is an essential part of the artwork.
Charles Deslondes, Gilbert, Quamana, Etienne, Jeesamine, and Marie Lawee–some of the leaders of the 1811 uprising–alongside the many enslaved people who were part of the revolt are unsung heroes: their vision, if known about more widely, would inspire many. Their rebellion is a profound “what if?” story. It had a small but real chance of succeeding— what would that have meant for U.S. and world history? Understanding that the past was not predetermined opens the ability for people to dream “what if?” for the future. We hope that this Project helps people of all races broaden their vision of what is possible.
SRR builds on Dread Scott’s performance, Dread Scott: Decision (2012) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Where Dread Scott: Decision looked at American democracy’s foundation in slavery, SRR shifts focus from the roots of America to the strivings of people fighting to be free of those roots. An army from the past, forged of descendants of enslaved Africans, will collide with the present and the reverberations will be felt by audiences and reenactors alike.
The Reenactment will conclude in Congo Square, (a location instrumental for preserving African culture in America,) with a celebration— transforming the violent suppression of the freedom fighters into a celebration of their achievement. Slave Rebellion Reenactment will continue the original rebels’ vision of emancipation that is embodied throughout the performance and will open the possibility for participants and audience members to imagine freedom.
To engage a variety of audiences, the project will have multiple identities: the Reenactment itself, a multichannel video installation of documentation from the event, recruitment meetings, installations, and documentary photos.
Dread Scott makes revolutionary art to propel history forward. In 1989, the entire US Senate denounced…
Renowned Ghanaian-British artist, filmmaker, and writer John Akomfrah will collaborate with Dread Scott on Slave…
Shana M. griffin is a feminist activist, independent researcher, applied sociologist, and artist. Her practice…
Kaia is a veteran organizer and native New Orleanian. She is involved with many non-profit…
Dorthy Ray is a Louisiana native curator, photographer, and mixed media artist— who seeks to…
Alison Parker is founder of ricRACK, a New Orleans based non-profit organization committed to using…
Jennifer Crook is a senior producer with a passion for delivering challenging events in public…
The story of the 1811 revolt and slave rebellions generally, are powerful stories of liberation with many lessons for the present. If you want to engage that history more fully, below is a list of resources Dread and the SRR team have been drawing on in the process of creating this performance.
Dread has also been looking at how visual artists have approached slave and peasant uprising. In particular:
– Hale Woodruff (Amistad murals)
– Kathe Kollwitz (Peasant War series)
– Jacob Lawrence (Toussaint Louverture)
Slave Revolt in Jamaica 1760-1761, Vincent Brown. In this interactive web project, Brown presents an animated thematic map that narrates the spatial history of the greatest slave insurrection in the eighteenth century British Empire. It gives a complex view of the dynamics and fighting strategy of revolts.
Burn (Queimada). 1969 Italian & French film directed by Gillo Pontecorvo and starring Marlon Brando and Evaristo Márquez. The fictional story focuses on the infighting between British and Portuguese colonial powers to occupy an island in the Caribbean. Brando plays a British secret government agent, who manipulates a slave revolt to serve the interests of the British sugar trade. The rebel slaves are the real heroes of the film.
We would also encourage anyone interested to visit New Orleans and take Leon Waters’ Hidden History Tour of the 1811 revolt.
Meanwhile, artists are diversifying their practices and reaping the benefits of critical recognition. Mark Bradford is representing the United States at the Venice Biennale; Dread Scott is reenacting a slave rebellion; Chris Ofili is creating the environmental vision for MCA Chicago’s new restaurant; and important emerging and established women artists are mounting their first solo institutional surveys.Victoria Valentine, Culture Type, January 2017
The Slave Rebellion Reenactment is an ambitious undertaking, a gathering of 500 people in period costume restaging and reinterpreting the largest rebellion of slaves in North American historyNicole Rupersburg, Creative Exchange September 2016
As recent fights over the Confederate Flag suggest, the past is far from dead. April marked the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, but New York artist Dread Scott wants to take you back even farther along in American history to that lesser-known 19th-century New Orleans slave uprising—the largest of its kind in what would become the United States.Brian Boucher, Artnet.com, September 2015
What if the German Coast Uprising had been successful? How would that have changed US history? But it also poses a much more important question: what if it is successful today? Tatiana Istomina, ArtFuse, August 2014
Costume development is being led in partnership with RicRack, a New Orleans based sewing focused non-profit.
Outreach efforts are being organized in partnership with Tulane's New Orleans Center for the Gulf South.
A Blade of Grass Foundation
Nathan Cummings Foundation
Givens Foundation for African American Literature
Gore Family Foundation
Joan Mitchell Center
The Kindle Project
McColl Center for Art + Innovation
New Orleans Center for the Gulf South at Tulane University
Open Society Foundations
VIA Art Fund
Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
And 500+ individual donors through our Kickstarter campaign and other contributions.
Antenna is lead fiscal sponsor of Slave Rebellion Reenactment.
Slave Rebellion Reenactment is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.