Channeling the Spirits is a choreo-poem performance that explores the hybrid caste of New Orleans Free People of Color, who were borne of an illegal but tolerated mixing of the French, Spanish, and African races in the Crescent City's colonial past.
José Torres-Tama dedicated seven years to research Les gens de couleur libres, whoare considered the first mixed-race people of the Hemispheric Americas.
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans commissioned the interdisciplinary artist to developed a series of contemporary pastels portraits on Arches paper, and the Torres-Tama highlighted 18th and 19th century Creoles of color, who were instrumental in challenging the racial injustices of their times.
The Ogden Museum debuted the full solo exhibition of some 20 portraits, and the art show traveled to Dillard University andthe Alexandria Museum of Art. It was remounted at the historic house museum called Le Musée du f.p.c. on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans.
Le Musée is one of the McKenna Museums that houses an extensive collection of Black art.
Torres-Tama developed colorful and expressionistic contemporary renditions of Marie Laveau, the most iconic "free woman of color" and renown priestess of Voudoun. She was a hair dresser, an herbalist, and established a system to buy family members and others out of slavery.
Rose Nicaud was an enslaved woman, and her story of transformation is epic and heroic. She bought herself out of bondage with earnings made from selling coffee by the river, and is considered the first vendor of coffee in the United States.
Marie Couvent arrived in New Orleans as an enslaved child at an estimated age of seven in the 1700s, and later transcended her condition of abominable bondage to become a "free woman of color," who owned various properties in the Marigny neighborhood.
The first women to own property in what became the United States after the Louisiana Purchase were "free women of color" like Marie Couvent. Why is this not known or taught?
C. C. Antoine was Captain of a regiment of free men of color, who fought bravely on the Union side during the Civil War, and later, he was the second man of color elected as Lieutenant Governor during Reconstruction.
Thomy Lafon was a successful business man and a philanthropist. He supported the founding of hospitals and schools for the education of Black children--at a time when it was illegal to educate Black people in the Slave states of the South.
In this performance, Torres-Tama brings these forgotten histories back to life and to the forefront. He challenges antiquated notions of "race purity," which have been a bedrock for the lingering legacy of white supremacy.
I am a mixed race Mestizo with Spanish Conquistador blood running through my veins, and Tama is a German Bavarian name in my family line.
Like most mixed race Ecuadorian-born people, I am of indigenous Quechua descent also, and as such, I am an Ecuadorian Criollo, the Spanish term for Creole and mixed race people with Spanish heritage.
I was drawn to this hybrid caste because of my own mixed-race lineage. --José Torres-Tama
Torres-Tama channels the history of a heroic hybrid caste that looked to dismantle the institutional prejudices of their times, and inspires us to embrace the social reckoning of the present to develop a more evolved Union.
With poetic prose and movement, he delivers a tour de force performance, and reminds us to honor and celebrate a heroic people of a forgotten past to forge a more enlightened future in a multiracial society.
Channeling the Spirits was first performed at the Ogden Museum, the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, and Dillard University, a historic Black College.
This is 60-minute performance, and it's followed by a post-performance Q & A with the artist discussing New Orleans "Free People of Color" and his research.