The Post-Katrina Portraits Forword

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For a selection of portraits, click on the following link


What follows here is the Foreword from the book ‘The Post-Katrina Portraits: Written and Narrated by Hundreds”Drawn by Francesco di Santis.


“You  hold in your hands an anthology of survival, renewal and struggle, a massive literary body collectively narrated by those impacted by the landfall and aftermaths of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, by those who took action on behalf of survivors and returning evacuees and by those who came to the disaster-stricken land in search of livelihood.

Through faces drawn and words written come the trials and tribulations, first-hand, of those who withstood the hurricanes, the ensuing chaos, repression and tyranny and stood their ground, of those who evacuated by choice, by necessity or by compulsion at authoritarian gunpoint and then came back, making it their cause or life’s work to reclaim and rebuild.

Hope, or at least resilience, stubbornly underlies or emerges outright in so many of these pages of anecdotes, revealing so many hearts and minds of North America’s gulf region which still lies in danger of coastal erosion and global warming.

This multimedia collection of tragedy, witness and uncertainty ultimately comes to us as one of communities. It celebrates the people who worked to create them, their pride, victories and aspirations, including those who came from afar in solidarity with the self-determination of its peoples.

In this volume the subjects of the portraits either wrote directly on the drawings of themselves or as a second resort, due to preference or ability, had excerpts of tape-recorded interviews written on them by an assistant. In both cases those drawn had the burden or pleasure of introducing themselves. Unless annotated otherwise, each portrait is written on by whom ever’s face appears on the page.

Though the narratives stand as individual testaments, they become far more potent in the context of this whole series – a metaphor for the individual in a larger setting effort or movement. Three symbols appear on each of the Post-Katrina Portraits to unite them as a series – that of the hurricane, the Cresent cCity (New Orleans) and the Common Ground Collective. In the latter, the cross indicates the commitment to medical care (the Common Ground Health Clinic) while the fist and hammer stand for a reconstruction empowering to the residents fighting displacement and dispossession.The month sometimes appearing besides these only indicates the time of the drawing’s completion.

In terms of voice, media and organization of information, the subjects of history took on the responsibility of creating the construct of history themselves, speaking for autobiographical slivers intersecting upon a major transformative event via handwriting and fine art. Each person, in unscripted vernacular, testifies as the source of their own past and present, introspection, memory and current condition. As I offered a language-neutral media format, some of the linguistic diversity of the residents of North america’s gulf region and of the volunteers who came from all six populated continents emerges.

For over a year, starting less than two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, I drew roughly two thousand portraits, many of which I or others have made publicly available elsewhere. Hundreds of hurricane survivors simply received their portraits as a gift, to fill some of the void left by family albums destroyed by flood and storm If not for the immediate relief work necessary to do upon arrival in the disaster zone and the needs of organizing such efforts, I would have drawn many more. Many portraits became damaged, lost or destroyed because of the unstable conditions of field work in a disaster zone. For the first few months of the project, the originals I kept and preserved, hung in disaster relief spaces. Now, as more than an archive, as a consolidated body of several hundred drawn between September ’05 and October ’06 set into chronological and thematic order, it has become an epic a league beyond its earlier haphazard show.

Many embraced the act of telling their story as a form of psychological recovery. For many others, telling theirs proved extremely difficult due to the trauma that surfaced. Many to whom I appealed could not – or chose not to – bring themselves to do so. But many others chose to recall, despite the emotional hardship, because they wanted the world to know For some the political motivation of what they perceived or recalled as the truth of the event inspired them. Others had a cultural or personal incentive to promote or make visible their heritage, identity and history.

I have felt honored to play a part in facilitating this record.” Francesco di Santis

For a selection of portraits, see


To read the "Afterword" of this book, click on "Next" or the page 2 link below.