Freedom or death: In moving tribute, group reenacts largest slave rebellion in nation’s history

“It’s important for this generation to know that you’re not the descendants of slaves, but the descendants of people that were enslaved and you’re at your current position because of the resistance.” – Supporter, Slave Rebellion Reenactment

NEW ORLEANS – On Nov. 8 and 9, in Louisiana, American artist Dread Scott and a group of supporters examined a significant milestone in our nation’s past with his latest collaborative project, Slave Rebellion Reenactment (SRR), which reimagined the largest rebellion of enslaved people in the history of the United States. The project, a collaboration with New Orleans-based arts organization Antenna, is the result of a six-year artistic effort involving historians, artists and community members.

Through this work, Scott, alongside community reenactors, explored the complex history of enslaved people’s fight for freedom in the U.S. and beyond. The performance sought to recover and reclaim the narrative of the German Coast Uprising of 1811, first penned by pro-slavery politicians to suppress similar rebellions, through the lens of resistance and emancipation.

“This is an art performance about freedom, resistance, and hope. Enslaved people, despite their horrendous circumstances, embraced this radical vision and heroic pursuit for a future not only where they could be free from bondage, but end the institution of slavery altogether,” said Scott. “In addition to our country grappling with the long-reaching, present-day effects of slavery and oppression, it is important to acknowledge the power that resides in reimagining your own destiny. We can learn a great deal from the many stories of that era.”

Slave Rebellion Reenactment was a large-scale, community-engaged live art performance and film production. Set along the River Parishes in Louisiana, the 26-mile roving performance traveled over two days from St. John the Baptist Parish to St. Charles Parish, LA, retracing the route of the historic 1811 uprising, and concluded with a public celebration in New Orleans’ Congo Square inside Louis Armstrong Park.

 

 

The project marked the first time in history that the rebellion has been reenacted at this scope and scale, and made for an impressive sight — hundreds of Black reenactors, many on horses, dressed in period clothing, flags flying, singing in Creole and English to African drumming. The work of art was to inform, engage and invite reflection on how the past informs the present.

The artwork was produced in partnership with the New Orleans arts organization Antenna, which has been integral to the development of the project and is led by Bob Snead.

“Antenna is proud of the role we have played in presenting this incredibly ambitious project,” Snead said. “Slave Rebellion Reenactment is a defining moment for both our organization and art history. Having so many local community partner organizations and participating residents, this monumental work will no doubt set a new bar for community-engaged art practices.”

Slave Rebellion Reenactment has received support from VIA Art Fund, Ford Foundation, the Open Society Institute, Surdna Foundation, MAP Fund, A Blade of Grass, amongst many other supporters including over 500 individual donors. It was captured on film by acclaimed filmmaker and director John Akomfrah with Smoking Dogs Films.

To find out more information about SRR, visit: