Editor’s note: Multimedia artist Claire Bangser started a new portrait-based story project that marries image and text. NOLAbeings is inspired by the Humans of NY project, and comes from the belief that we can all learn from each others’ stories. Primarily featured on Instagram (and tumblr), Claire meets people in coffee shops, grocery stores, living rooms, sidewalks, and learns something about each individual through a snapshot conversation and image. The first week saw 26 posts (and counting), so we here at NolaVie decided, after discovering and falling in love with the project, to feature a weekly ’roundup’ of these NOLAbeings. Each Friday we’ll exhibit five pieces to compile a cross-section of what this series documents on a continual basis.
“My mom passed away when I was 8 years old and my dad passed away when I was 3, so my aunt took care of us. She brought us to the United States from Guatemala and that’s how I come out here. It was a whole deal different. We went to the projects Uptown – it was like heaven. It was beautiful. I couldn’t go to school because they was trying to back me up. I was like in the 10th grade and they was trying to put me in the 6th grade. They was trying to put me in a Catholic school but the nuns say they can’t take me because I might be a child molester picking on the girls. There was no choice but going to work. I started working at 16 at a hardware store. All my life has been hardware – working my way up. I love that. I love people. The challenge is language. So hard. I could never go to school and for that – I couldn’t advance ’cause I can’t write, I can’t spell – a thirdgrade kid could whip my butt in a minute! Haha! But I knew numbers – that’s what my secret is. You gotta explore your mind, what you’re best at. And my best thing was numbers. I remember numbers. They give me a number I say, ‘yeah I got it!’ So that’s what I got into – all my life – numbers.”
“What do you like about your big brother?” “Sometimes he punches me. Well, I forget!” “What are you teaching your little sister?” “Uhhhhh. Spanish.”
“I’m an eye doctor – opthomologist – lots of attention to detail. Back when I was doing these things my tradition was that I would start on Monday morning and make the whole costume in 24 hours. It’s part of that growing homemade art, participatory Mardi Gras stuff that I love so much.”
“I have nine grandchildren and I live here on Royal Street. One time they all wanted to come here and so I got them dressed up in tutus and blings. I love to put them out on Royal Street because for me Royal Street is all for children. So I get ’em all blinged up and tutued up and they play out on Royal Street and then they come back up to our condo. That is Mardi Gras. What we’re creating is not all about the nudity and the drinking, it’s about letting our children play.”
“I lost one of my sons in 2001. He got killed. Then I had my husband, he died right after Katrina in 2006. I had another son that died with the walking pneumonia in 2011. And I just had a son who got killed right here on the corner in October of last year. And I just lost my mother say, 3 weeks now.”
“How do you cope?”
“I just keep myself occupied and doing different things, you know. Going this place, cleanin’ up my house just to keep my mind focused and doing things. Instead of just sitting down, moping around. I don’t. I just keep on moving. If I sit down and don’t do nothing it’s going to make me think about it.”