New Orleans 'Floodwall' Exhibit Comes To Berlin

Jana Napoli

Jana Napoli is the artist behind this month's exhibition "Floodwall" at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. Monika Mueller-Kroll for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Monika Mueller-Kroll for NPR

"If you are walking down the street and the label is out from your shirt, someone - man, woman, child, will walk up behind you and put the label of your shirt in for you. That's New Orleans."

Jana Napoli was born and raised in New Orleans. Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina devastated her home town, she dealt with the tragedy by collecting household drawers.

"It was hard living in Diaspora and coming home was very difficult. That's why I collected 750 drawers from in front of abandoned houses, and I understood how hard it was to rebuild a life,” Napoli says.

The artist collected drawers from dressers, kitchen cabinets, and desks, and stacked them on top of each other, creating an art installation.

Napoli, 64, says one good thing that came out of Hurricane Katrina was the opportunity to not be able to do one habitual act that you have been accustomd to.

"You must think why and what you do," she says.

"Floodwall," Jana Napoli's art installation, deals with loss and identity. One part of the project is to find the owners of the drawers and document their stories. The other part involves asking the viewers,"What would you take with you and what would you put back into your drawer?”

Drawers i

"Floodwall "will be presented in Berlin from September 10th to October 15th. Installed on the 1920s “Kurier” ship moored at several locations on the Spree, the exhibition will visit different neighborhoods across the city. Monika Mueller-Kroll hide caption

itoggle caption Monika Mueller-Kroll
Drawers

"Floodwall "will be presented in Berlin from September 10th to October 15th. Installed on the 1920s “Kurier” ship moored at several locations on the Spree, the exhibition will visit different neighborhoods across the city.

Monika Mueller-Kroll

When "Floodwall" was exhibited in Poland, Napoli says she found the reactions to be very practical.

"They brought fruit, carrots, and they brought umbrellas. The kids were grand, and everybody brings their pets. That seems to be universal."

Jana Napoli has always been active in empowering people. In 1988, she founded the non profit organization "YaYa" in New Orleans, supporting high school students to become artists and entrepreneurs.

In Berlin, the multimedia artist has installed 350 drawers from the streets of New Orleans on a ship, below the deck of the 1920's Kurier ship at Märkisches Ufer. Napoli says she liked the idea of floating the drawers down the river for the people of Berlin to pick them up.

"Everyone here, for different reasons, had to flee once and to get the voice of your city. We understand now what it's like to evacuate and come home to nothing."

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