Alpha Bruton creates environmental art installations where objects and images are selected to “serve as cultural mirrors" and the sites in which they are situated serve as part of a broader cultural commentary. In preparing the art to be presented in this exhibition, I decided to submit my Mardi Gras series, a collection, and body of artwork I started in 1999.

I wanted to experience and create the series from my own lens, rather than imitating other people's images and experiences of the day. Researching from books, and photos other artist have taken.

My first trip to the New Orleans Mardi Gras was in 1999, marking the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the Zulu Parade.  Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, was founded in 1909 by laborers who originally called themselves “The Tramps.” There I was awestruck in the tradition of catching the penny beads being thrown off the floats.

These three paintings, “Mardi Gras throws” are strings of beads, doubloons, cups, or other trinkets passed out or thrown from the floats in the New Orleans Mardi Gras, the Mobile Mardi Gras and parades all throughout the Gulf Coast of the United States, to spectators lining the streets. Beads used on Mardi Gras (known as Shrove Tuesday in some regions) are gold, purple and green, with these three colors containing the Christian symbolism of power, justice, and faith, respectively. Zulu’s are dedicated to “greatness in the Urban Community,”

Zulu Parade, 1999 The Story of  Mardi Gras Indian Queens

Zulu Parade, 1999

Zulu Parade, 2000

Spectators have traditionally shouted to the krewe members, "Throw me something, mister!", a phrase that is iconic in New Orleans' Mardi Gras street argot. You have to be on the ground, and in the crowd, celebrating, to get the gist of this.

“ Kickin it at the Mardi Gras” Lundi Gras at Woldenberg Park,
Lundi Gras
That’s just the beginning of Zulu’s public partying. On Lundi Gras, the club holds a huge outdoor festival, at Woldenberg Park, along the Mississippi River. The club’s “characters,” the Big Shot, the Province Prince, and others, appear on three stages around the festival area throughout the afternoon. The bash culminates with the arrival (by boat) of King Zulu. There’s music all afternoon, as well as food and drinks by over twenty vendors.

My last visit was in 2003, was the Honorary Celebrity Grand Marshal for the Zulu parade during Mardi Gras was Spike Lee. I am still using the vibrant colors I captured from my lens, in these studies I've been working and reworking, using an acrylic glaze on paper.


African-Americans in New Orleans have been part of the city’s Carnival celebrations since its inception. The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club is the most-visible African-American Carnival organization in New Orleans. Founded in 1909, Zulu has a rich history which runs through the entire fabric of the city. In the past, enslaved Africans and the Gens de couleur libre were not allowed to participate in the pageants, parties, and parades of Mardi Gras.

Prior to the Civil War, open gatherings of enslaved African-Americans were strictly controlled. After the Emancipation, the end of the war, and the 13th Amendment, public demonstrations and celebrations became common. Black folks were able to, at a minimum, take to the streets, carrying the Mardi Gras spirit from home to home. As Carnival in New Orleans evolved and grew, so did the participation of African-Americans.

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