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Prospect.4: A Lotus in Spite of the Swamp opens Nov. 18 

A look at the international art triennial

Wildflowers, Maria Berrio’s collage of Japanese papers and watercolor paint is part of the Prospect.4 exhibition.

Wildflowers, Maria Berrio’s collage of Japanese papers and watercolor paint is part of the Prospect.4 exhibition.

Prospect.4, the latest iteration of Prospect New Orleans' international art triennial, opens Nov. 18 on the cusp of an auspicious event: the 300th anniversary of the city's founding. As befits America's most novel city, Prospect.4 promises to be the city's most exotic triennial art event in several ways. The title, The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, sets the tone. Most of us know about swamps, but the lotus flower evokes a whiff of mystery as an ancient Hindu and Buddhist icon of enlightenment. Prospect.4 Artistic Director Trevor Schoonmaker, director of Duke University's Nasher Museum of Art, calls it "a beautiful bloom flourishing untainted above the murky water," a fitting symbol for our natural environment as well as the resilience of our city for the way it reminds us that "redemption exists in ruin, and creativity in destruction."

  As a showcase of global and local creativity, Prospect.4 will feature work by 73 artists from around the globe presented at 17 venues across the city. Participants range from art stars Yoko Ono and Kara Walker — whose massive, sphinxlike Marvelous Sugar Baby sculpture in an abandoned Brooklyn sugar mill was New York's mega art magnet of 2014 — to less familiar figures such as Kiluanji Kia Henda, who commandeered empty pedestals once topped by colonial monuments in his native Angola, and Monique Verdin, whose multimedia focus on Louisiana's unique coastal ecology is inspired by her Houma Native American tribal heritage. This emphasis on art and artists who, as Schoonmaker says, "engage with the Amer- ican South and the 'Global South'" — the emerging cultures of Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean — reflects a choice to emphasize art that "resonates within New Orleans' unique culture, customs, food, music, architecture, language and spirituality." Its focus on the Global South also may reflect a realization that those long-overlooked cultures represent the art world's new frontier as places where innovative ideas and new visionary possibilities are emerging at a time when mainstream American and European art sometimes seem less dynamic than in the past.

  For New Orleans, the timing is serendipitous for the way it aligns America's exotic misfit city with those long-overlooked Global South places with which we have so much in common. Like those newly emergent cultures, New Orleans has long remained a place apart, at least until Hurricane Katrina caused it to be suddenly rediscovered by America and much of the rest of the world. In 2008, Prospect.1, the critically acclaimed exposition directed by renowned curator Dan Cameron, was an early product of that epochal transformation. Now, as Prospect.4 ushers in the city's 300th birthday, we are entering a new phase of an inspiring collaborative adventure in civic and cultural engagement.

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Prospect.4: A Lotus in Spite of the Swamp opens Nov. 18
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