Covering Louisiana

Aug 9, 2014 1:27 PM by KATE MABRY - The Courier

Artist aims to open dialogue on coastal issues

HOUMA, La. (AP) - A Houma native and artist has used his talents to shine a national spotlight on the connection between south Louisiana's culture and the oil and gas industry.

Through his artwork and an upcoming documentary, Brooks Frederick, a New York City resident and professional artist for more than 15 years, hopes to open up a dialogue about the challenges facing Louisiana's coast.

His series of oil paintings, which are executed in oil and tar from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill, call into question the sustainability of current practices in the industry. The series includes portraits of well-known national figures, including BP CEO Tony Hayward, as well as Terrebonne Parish residents who were affected by the spill.

"I was interested in showing all the players who caused it and were affected by it," he said. "In some ways, this could be seen as historic work to document the event."

As a professor at Adelphi University in New York, Frederick returns to Houma about every three months during school breaks. During his most recent trip home, he brought along a film crew to document current events in his hometown.

The upcoming documentary by New York City filmmaker Katie Albright will feature Frederick's work as well as the oil and gas industry's influence on local culture.

While much of the focus lies on the impact of coastal erosion and the oil spill, Albright said she wants to explore the culture's uniqueness and how the industry impacts the culture for good or bad.

"In Houma, we encountered a lot of optimism," she said. "Despite the many real issues, they are very optimistic about the future of their culture and their land."

Albright hopes to raise money to return to Terrebonne Parish in the future to create more documentaries.

During the crew's weeklong stay in south Louisiana, Frederick introduced the film crew to several nearby locations, including the Grand Caillou Community Center, Grand Isle, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and even Houma's Scarlet Scoop Ice Cream Parlor.

Frederick and the film crew traveled to Lapeyrouse Seafood, Bar and Grocery off Louisiana Highway 56 in Chauvin for Parrain's Petroleum Party, an event held by a collective group of local artists.

While Frederick showed his oil paintings created in tar, comedic act Parrain Vin performed his most recent song, "BP Got Away."

Parrain Vin - whose real name is Vinny Kreamer - of Chauvin uses his song to depict his personal views on the impact of the 2010 oil spill.

In addition to performances by Parrain Vin and Frederick, Houma resident Whitney Loupe dressed as Pearl the mermaid and entertained children with stories about the oil spill's impact on life in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Art is one of the healthiest tools that we have to deal with tragedy or problems," Frederick said. "We wanted to talk about challenges that we face as a coastal community in a way that is very Louisiana. If we're going to do anything, there's always a party attached to it."

While the event was full of entertainment, Frederick said he aimed to use art as an entry point into a serious conversation about Louisiana's coast.

"It's important for me to show the work in some of the most affected places and hear the thoughts of some of those who were the most affected like the shrimpers and fishermen," he said. "The oil spill was widely covered by the media, and we're trying to help draw attention and gain exposure to some of the other issues we face like coastal erosion."

Frederick held a similar event last weekend with several more artists and performers at a downtown Houma store.

Prior to the event, Frederick asked the artists to perform a piece that directly responded to environmental issues concerning the Louisiana coast.

Frederick said his paintings tied the performances together and provided a context to talk about these issues.

"While doing this, I discovered it's not easy to talk about this stuff," he said. "Louisiana can be a difficult place to live, but we have a rich artistic tradition because of that. I'm trying to tap into that culture that we have in the Houma area to start to talk about our land, our coast and how to make sure it's here for the next generation."

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Information from: The Courier, http://www.houmatoday.com

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