Art and historical narratives: An interview with Dr. Fari Nzinga, curator of The Rent is Too Damn High!

Dr. Fari Nzinga, curator of The Rent is Too Damn High! exhibit (photo credit: Patrick Shannon)

Whether its hieroglyphics, photographs, or architectural design, art has always been one of the most dominant forces in story-telling. As time passes and those art forms are archived, a narrative about the era, the people, and the way of life starts to develop. While this is common, it is also incredibly dangerous. Historical narratives have traditionally been shaped by very few hands. Dr. Fari Nzinga–a professor of anthropology, an artist, writer, and a curator–is not letting this happen for the New Orleans Tricentennial. 

Her exhibit The Rent is too Damn High! which opens on April 7th at the Crescent City Boxing Gym (3101 Erato Street), is a collection of artist’s work that explores themes of home, belonging, cultural transmission, gentrification and displacement. As Dr. Fari explains, she is attempting to use art as a form of truth telling, and then have “…art as the means that people can relate to those truths.” Not only will the artists’ works be on display for the exhibition, but there will also be a performance art aspect to the exhibit because, as Dr. Fari enthusiastically asks, “…who doesn’t love an opportunity for political satire, comedy, and debate?” In fact, this debate will include historical figures Marie Laveau, Thomy Lafon, Juan San Maló, and Rose Nicaud, and they will be outlining their platforms and visions for New Orleans’ next 300 years.

In other words, this is an exhibit unlike any other in New Orleans. It not only looks at, acknowledges, and praises the massive and pivotal role that people of color had and continue to have in making New Orleans the city that it is, but it also questions how New Orleans will create its future identity. “I had done all this dissertation research coming here, looking at the history of black resistance and activism and how black people have made this city what it is,” Dr. Fari says. “So I really wanted there to be an exhibition that says, ‘Thank you black people for being here, for putting up with so much oppression, and the good and the bad.'”

As with most artistic endeavors, there was back and forth of what the exhibit would entail, who it would include, and how it would open doors of conversation rather than close them. “I didn’t want to share this idea with anyone at first because I was afraid that people would think I was crazy,” Dr. Fari says shyly. “…finally my best friend looked at me and said, ‘Ma’am.” That’s all it took.

She started sharing the concepts with her other friends, who all encouraged her to curate this exhibit that was about inclusivity and issues of the past that are still present in today’s society. A main goal of hers is to make this exhibition relatable as well as acknowledge and dialogue about what many in this city can definitely feel–that The Rent is Too Damn High! 

And even though the exhibit will end on May 6, Dr. Fari is ensuring that the artists involved, the conversations, and the artistic works continue far past the taking down of their pieces. As she says, “I’m also working really hard to make sure that all the artists that are involved [in the exhibition] are also published in a catalogue. I think it’s really important that people who have made a space for themselves as artist here in New Orleans also are seen and recognized outside of the city by people who might want to include their work in a curatorial exhibition, a museum, or an unconventional art space. Or someone who might want to commission them or purchase their work.” 

The wholistic approach to this exhibit allows time to collapse in on itself, and all inside the walls of an unconventional art space. History, the present, and the future will all be intermingling together as the artists openly talk about their research, their work, and their hopes for the future of New Orleans. And we can almost guarantee that people will be saying the title of the exhibit all throughout the night because let’s face it, it’s the damn truth!


The Rent is Too Damn High! opens on April 7, 2018 at the Crescent City Boxing Gym (3101 Erato Street). The opening reception begins at 6:00 PM. The exhibit will have the curated work of the artists involved, a performance art piece, food, and drinks. The evening will be hosted by comedian, Riga Ruby and DJ’d by RQAway. Tickets are $10 (if you are under 18, it is free), and you can purchase them here. You can also make a tax deductible donation to the exhibition and project here



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