This exhibition features photographs by Jenny Ellerbe. It deals with the landscape of Northeast Louisiana as a cultural object whose layers heap one on top of another. Some are forgotten, others not. Specifically, Ellerbe’s subject matter is the ancient mounds scattered throughout Northeast Louisiana. Some of the mounds were constructed as early as 5000 BCE, but the largest and most complex mounds, located in the Poverty Point State Historic Site, were constructed from 1700 to 1100 BCE. Built by hunter-fisher-gatherers, the Poverty Point design has not been duplicated anywhere in the world. The site includes a variety of earthen constructions including five mounds ranging between two and twenty-two meters tall and six low-lying concentric rings, the longest of which is over one kilometer long. One factor that likely contributed to the mounds’ successful construction was a highly developed trading network that accounted for great deposits of non-local building and tool materials found there. These materials include quartz crystals, steatite, copper, galena, and iron oxide: materials that are found as far afield as Iowa, the Ozark and the Appalachian Mountains, and western Georgia. The mounds at Poverty Point are also unique in North America for their age, the proliferation of new styles of tools and cultural objects, their size, and the fact these infrastructure intense projects were completed by hunter-fisher-gatherers. The civilization that occupied Poverty Point from 1700 to 1100 BCE marked a high water point for cultural achievement that was not surpassed for several hundred years. This degree of achievement makes Poverty Point truly noteworthy in the history of humankind. The Poverty Point mounds were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List* earlier this year. The mound-building tradition continued in Louisiana and throughout the Southeast at varying scales until contact with European cultures disrupted it.
The manner in which Ellerbe photographs the mounds positions them as monuments to humans’ fleeting existence and a testament to the power of a nearly forgotten culture’s achievements. She often uses long dramatic shadows to indicate the passage of time and portrays contemporary human objects as though they are detritus. From image to image the mounds may be depicted as monumental or as hidden, virtually forgotten things. This contrast parallels inconsistent general awareness of the mound tradition in Northeast Louisiana. Ellerbe uses dramatic Louisiana cloud formations as a critical foil to this issue. Their regular appearance points, as it does in many art historical traditions, to the importance, majesty, and timeless nature of a thing. The Shared Earth exhibition will pair photographs with a selection of archaeological artifacts from Poverty Point. This element of the exhibition is intended to contextualize the historic nature and importance of the developments at mound sites in Northeast Louisiana within the overall story of human civilization. The artifacts speak to what we know of a moment in time as well as the human condition itself by illustrating how all human endeavors, artistic and otherwise, drive and shape our environment, ensuring our survival and giving our lives meaning. This is the unavoidable nature of the human condition.
Shared Earth: The Ancient Mounds Project exhibition is a collaboration between the Poverty Point Station Archaeology Program and the Masur Museum of Art. It will feature fine art photography and archaeological artifacts. Free lectures and educational activities will take place at the Masur and Poverty Point State Historic Site during the exhibition. Call the Masur at 318.329.2237 or like us on Facebook for more information. This exhibition is supported by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council as administered by the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council.
*To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. Please visit http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/ for more information.