The American Dream Denied

Hannah Chalew

Hannah Chalew is a New Orleans based artist who works across the disciplines of sculpture, drawing and social practice. In her art she explores what it means to live in the age of climate change, particularly in Southern Louisiana - and since 2018, she has sought to divest her studio practice from fossil fuels as much as possible. She does this through the materials she uses, choosing recycled, free, and sustainable materials; by powering her artworks and studio practice with renewable resources like solar power and rain-water harvesting; and by traveling by bike to and from her studio.

Chalews work has been widely recognized including a 2019 New Museum IdeasCity New Orleans Fellowship; a 2018 grant from The Platforms Fund, developed by Antenna, Ashé Cultural Arts Center, and Pelican Bomb, with support from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; and by artist residencies at the Joan Mitchell Center and the Longue Vue House and Gardens, both in New Orleans. Her art appears in two creative atlases by writer and activist Rebecca Solnit, Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas, co-authored with Rebecca Snedeker, and Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, co-authored with Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. She has also exhibited work at Dieu Donné, New York; the Asheville Museum of Art; and Ogden Museum of Southern Art, among many other venues in throughout Louisiana.

Inspired by the experiences of residents living in Gordon Plaza for three decades, this work explores the neighborhood’s tidy suburban terrain, with its pleasant aspirational street names like Abundance, Humanity and Benefit, which is quite literally undermined by the unstable toxic ground this development was built on—one that is engineered from the trash and debris collected on site since 1909, when the Agriculture Street Landfill first opened, well before a definition of “hazardous waste” existed. This work is fashioned from my homemade paper and ink. I made the paper from bagasse, the byproduct of sugarcane production combined with shredded plastic waste. Creating on this paper highlights for me the legacy of chattel slavery and white supremacy on our landscape, and how they are the roots of the environmental racism in Gordon Plaza as well as in Cancer Alley. I made the ink from oak galls, a growth that oak trees produce in reaction to a wasp laying an egg on a leaf bud, creating a puparium for the baby wasp that ultimately does not harm the tree. While using this ink, I was thinking about the specificity of the New Orleans landscape and the feeling of home that oak trees give a neighborhood, as well as the resilience of the residents of Gordon Plaza. 

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