The American Dream Denied

LaVonna Varnado-Brown

LaVonna Varnado-Brown is a socially-engaged multidisciplinary artist, teacher and community organizer. Based in New Orleans, she trained in theater at Southeastern Louisiana University and has managed independent sets and programs throughout the city, including site-specific productions in the French Quarter and venues such as the All Souls Community Center & Episcopal Church, the Contemporary Art Center, and the Vonnie Borden Theatre. Inspired by the strong female leadership at The Peoples Assembly she uses the imagination to speak truth to power. In her work and practice, Varnado-Brown is dedicated to creating spaces where marginalized people of all ages can use the arts to counter the narratives that they are systemically fed and shift consciousness.

Microflora Cornucopia” is a mystical play on the 1599 Carvaggio still life “Basket of Fruit” and Adriaen van Utrecht’s “Vanitas: Still Life with Bouquet and Skull”. It explores the notions of abundance and harvest, while meditating on the tragic situation of Gordon Plaza residents who are living on the site of a former toxic waste dump. The ram is a symbol of the Egyptian god Khnum, who was a builder and creator. He is often depicted with green skin to symbolize new life, rebirth and regeneration such as that found in vegetation. In Greek mythology, the cornucopia and idea of overflow comes from Zeus’s horn of Amalthea, an object that contained everything its owner desired. Today, in Gordon Plaza chickens have come home to roost. The landfill’s ample debris and chemical residue seeps up into the yards and bodies of those who attempt to garden or simply use their own land for healthy outdoor activities. The soil that was originally intended to provide a life-blood to generations of African Americans is poisoned. The residents of Gordon Plaza have not been given the opportunity to reap the harvest of the work they’ve sewn into their lives. They are being harmed in the confines of what should be a safe haven, their homes. Three decades and five mayors have had opportunity to rectify this situation and provide some shade of justice to the residents of Gordon Plaza. Time’s up. 

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