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soundscape of nola

a walk down memory lane: claiborne avenue


1 month, April - May 2019


Graphic/ Visual Design, Physical Prototyping Woodwork, Sound-Editing


Cherry Wu, Regina Madanguit

Soundscapes of NOLA is a public art and history interactive designed to elevate the voices of the people of New Orleans. The goal is to create new narratives and symbols of the city and to honor the erased histories of the people, places, and movements of old Claiborne.


For this project, I conducted research on the site history, designed and executed graphics for the photomontages, and built the interactive puzzle with woodwork.

The Context

How can a city's past become a meaningful platform for its future? Can we interrogate historic neighborhoods destabilized by environmental catastrophe, gentrification, multi-scale development, and the privatization of schools and social services?

The New Orleans’ Claiborne Avenue historic neighborhood was home to the longest single strand of oak trees in the country and a place of pride and belonging for the African American community. Before being disrupted by the construction of the interstate-10 highway, it was a thriving Black-owned business district, and its relentless spirit rooted in a fascinating synthesis of influences has created a unique culture of people and celebration of differences. Yet, these ideals are not consistently realized due to problems with the structure of power in place combined with the lack of forethought or purposeful design of the city.

Subsequently, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, most of the city was rendered underwater.
The event revealed the planning praxis and the White Spatial Imagery within post-Katrina New Orleans where the phenomenon in racial geography ensured the displacement of Black residents.


Redefining 'Memorialization'

By taking a walk down the memory lane of New Orleans’ I-10, one is reminded of the stories that are once important to New Orleans’ residents. There is a need to join and expand a conversation about past events and movements that have shaped the city and lives, and find the heroic in every individual in the place. When faced with the question “What is an appropriate monument?” our goal is to center around collaboration and integrity. We seek to create an opportunity for locals to find their voice in the process and reclaim the space and tell stories that are lost or obscured when New Orleans’ history is recounted.

The Making

Using a 50" x 26” life-size interactive puzzle as a form of critical cartography, we created a tactile experience that would illustrate the neighborhood’s change over time. The piece requires activation by two or more participants as they simultaneously figure out where each puzzle piece fits. During the process, a soundtrack revealing specific time, people and event details captured by the archival photographs will be played in the background as audio clue and guidance


The Narrative

The puzzle consists of archival photographs of the vibrant Black business center on one side, and images after the overpass and Hurricane Katrina on the other to narrate the juxtaposing transformation over time.

An audio-experience involves putting on headphones and carefully “listening” to each piece of the puzzle. The 10- minute soundscape starts with bustling live jazz music, second parades, and business establishments resembling its heights in the 1950s. It then transitions into soundbites of Hurricane Katrina news, highway traffics and local protests against redevelopment – showing a disturbing contrast.

The participants will find themselves in a mediating role, tracing, reflecting, and learning about the history of Claiborne as if they were physically walking down the corridor from one end to the other. Ultimately, the project interrogates the role of public art and history in our cities and echoes the concerns for rapid transformation in the Black urban sphere in an intimate yet interactive manner.

How has infrastructure exacerbated social
inequalities in a variety of contexts throughout history?


The Takeaway

By recognizing that infrastructures are not neutral, but a hegemonic form of writing dominance onto the landscape, the project attempts to reclaim the visual narratives of old Claiborne that represent the memories of the city and its territory. This is achieved by merging the photos of physical and social infrastructure–I-10 and public art murals–as cultural objects with the potential to interject new narratives into the local Black community.

Through the critical race, methodological approaches, and community engagement, we aim to help build the framework for a digital humanities project on Black mecca histories and futures.

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Meet the Soundscape of NOLA Team

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