Artist Recreates Rebellion of Enslaved People for New Project

By Sameer Rao Nov 07, 2017

Multimedia artist Dread Scott partnered with New Orleans arts organization Antenna for an ambitious performance piece: a to-scale reenactment of one of the largest revolts of enslaved people in North American history. The team now seeks crowdfunding support via a Kickstarter campaign launched on Friday (November 3).

The project page for “Slave Rebellion Reenactment” describes it as “a community-engaged performance that will bring to life a suppressed history of people with an audacious plan to organize, take up arms and seize [the] Orleans Territory.” Scott bases the performance on an 1811 rebellion in the territory, which included much of what makes up contemporary Louisiana.

A 2016 article from Smithsonian Magazine traces the rebellion to Charles Deslondes, whose French enslavers took him to Louisiana when they escaped the Haitian Revolution. That uprising inspired Deslondes to plan another insurrection that would establish a Black republic in the Orleans Territory. He and more than 500 enslaved peoples seized the Deslondes plantation and marched toward New Orleans, aiming to liberate thousands of other Black people from bondage along the way. Their plans to occupy and emancipate New Orleans stalled after three days, when militias killed most of the soldiers before capturing and executing rebellion leaders. 

The “Slave Rebellion Reenactment” Kickstarter page says the project will enlist “500+ Black people, many on horses, armed with machetes and muskets, flags flying, some in militia uniforms, others in 19th century French colonial garments, singing in Creole to African drumming,” to march along the militia’s original route for two days. This group, which Scott calls the “Army of the Enslaved," will march to the outskirts of New Orleans. The performance rejects the bloody suppression of the rebellion by ending with "a celebration featuring a public commemoration of the enslaved rebels who sacrificed their lives, and a community celebration of Black cultural expressions of freedom through music and performance.”

Dread first conceived of the project in 2013. “Slave Rebellion Reenactment” is scheduled to happen in November of 2018. Money raised via the Kickstarter will support costume and prop development, compensation for performers and historian consultation costs.