By Xavier University Newsroom,
Ron Bechet, Professor of Art in the Department of Art and Performance Studies at Xavier, is one of the artists with featured works in the “Yesterday we said Tomorrow” Prospect.5 New Orleans exhibit. The only one of its kind in the United States, “Prospect” is a triennial exhibition that has placements across the city of New Orleans in museums, galleries, and even some unexpected public spaces. This year, the Xavier University Art Gallery on the first floor of the Administration Building is also host to a section of the exhibit. An installation featuring works from artist Tiona Nekkia McClodden opened over the weekend on December 11.
Bechet’s pieces are featured in the Newcomb Art Museum at Tulane University. Most of his artworks use places, his imagination reflecting landscapes that typically one might see around Louisiana, usually using trees as part of his metaphor. For Bechet, the trees are layered with meaningful symbolism and parallels to the human experience that he hopes is transferred to the viewer.
“I take a lot of walks in the forest, and I can see the way that we live and the way that we see ourselves. These kinds of things exist strongly in my memory- the memory of my ancestors, the people who built me and made me, and those who built and made them, and I still feel as though I am in touch with them [spritually],” Bechet said about his inspiration.
Bechet has been at Xavier for two decades after earning his master’s degree from Yale University. He received his undergraduate degree at the University of New Orleans. He has never doubted that he wanted to be involved in art, admitting that as a small child he would get in trouble for doodling on surfaces he wasn’t supposed to.
“There are so many things that you can do with your passion. If you live your passion daily, you really don’t have to go to work,” said Bechet. “I’ve been very lucky and extremely blessed to make art, to share my making of art, and pass on to students the practice of making art.”
For Bechet, the integration of schools he experienced in fourth grade was jarring at first, but the Irish nuns at his school soon noticed his talent and enjoyment for making art, choosing to cultivate the young man’s gift. To help him realize his potential and help expand his skills, the nuns would often ask Bechet to help with any sort of creative project. Their attention and support helped him develop a sense of pride and self-esteem in his abilities.
Bechet credits the mentorship of others as well for helping him succeed. The renowned and former Xavier professor John Scott acted as a mentor to Bechet, inspiring him to continue Scott’s tradition of “passing on,” whether physical or material, to the next generation of Xavier students.
The exhibit, curated by various leaders of the art world, features artists from all over the world that speak to the year’s theme, engaging in the unique issues and culture of the Southern United States by either contributing to existing works or creating new pieces. The first Prospect exhibition came about after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina as a way to bring people back to New Orleans by using the lens of the arts. The first show in 2007 was well-received in the local and global arts community, and in each iteration since then, one director is selected to put together the theme and artists that will be featured.
“Prospect.5: Yesterday we said tomorrow” is the fifth edition of Prospect New Orleans. The theme, inspired by New Orleans jazz musician Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s 2010 album “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow”, centers on the unspoken present, the place where past and future come together, and where other courses of action become possible. The title theme also implies the deferral of meaningful social change, which will often occur very slowly or else not at all. Participating artists use the idea to define and confront the truth and dark realities of history that are often glossed over, while also suggesting the possibility for a more positive future.
“[This iteration is] using the past to look forward to the future. Almost like a Sankofa moment, all of the foibles and things you cannot change, but we can use to change and make things for the future. The only thing we can do is live in the moment and prepare ourselves for a better tomorrow,” Bechet said about the theme.
The exhibit was originally slated to open at the end of summer 2021, but Hurricane Ida and the spread of the COVID-19 Delta Variant postponed the launch. Instead, it utilized staggered openings across the city beginning at the end of October. The gallery will be on display until January 23, 2022. The opening weekend festivities and Prospect.5 Gala, originally planned for October 21–24, have been postponed until January 2022.
On December 11, an installation featuring works by artist Tiona Nekkia McClodden opened in the Xavier University Art Gallery on the first floor of the Administration Building. McClodden is a visual artist, filmmaker and curator who uses her pieces to explore and critique intersectionalities of race, gender, sexuality, and social commentary. One of her more recent themes centers on “biomythography,” a combination of history, biography, and myth-making. Viewers can see pieces from McClodden’s exhibitions Wednesday through Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Newcomb Art Museum is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout the run of Prospect.5. The museum is closed on Mondays. Other artists with pieces at Newcomb include Barbara Chase-Riboud, Elliott Hundley, Mimi Lauter, Naudline Pierre, The Historic New Orleans Collection, Dawoud Bey, George Dureau, and Josh Kun.