Mardi Gras, New Orleans 1959. This caught the eye of a South African traveler back in the day. Queen Zulu?! Its impossible to explain this image in only a few lines so have a look and then read below for the explanation.
Explanation: Understanding this image opens up a complex and layered view of a far-off culture. I admit to only having done about an hour’s research but love the criss-crossing of cultural symbols, meaning and identity in this story. Read on: The Mardi Gras street parade in New Orleans is quite a major happening. Krewes (or clubs) put together themed floats for it. The so-called ‘Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club’ – in existence since 1916 with even older roots – is one of the famous ones. Every year, a King is elected plus a host of other characters (read about them, including the fascinating ‘Zulu Mr. Big Stuff’ here). In 1949, Louis Armstrong was the Zulu King. Now, what we see here is the float for the Zulu Queen. She was actually a side show to the King. If you read about the Club on Wikipedia here, you’ll see that only the names of the Kings are recorded. The Queens were a later addition and were often wives of club members. To this day, club membership is all male, and predominantly African-American. You can read all about the history and current activities of the ‘Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure club’ here on their web site. Read also about New Orleans here and Mardi Gras here. This looks all rather un-PC in 2013 doesn’t it? Well, in the 1960’s the club almost folded during an era of black consciousness, but it hung on and revived and is very active to this day in the carnival and with day-to-day community projects.
Restoring this image involved lightening and brightening. There were deep, dark grey skies on that carnival day back in 1959.
Before and after:
Click for big.