DEMOND MELANCON (1978 – )is a multidisciplinary contemporary artist and performer with extensive roots in the Black Masking culture of New Orleans. With a career spanning almost three decades, Melancon is well-known for his meticulous hand-sewn beadwork used to create massive Mardi Gras Indian suits which are composed of intricately beaded patches depicting actual and imagined events from African and American history. His complex and multidimensional portrayals draw inspiration from indigenous people in America, enslaved Africans, and inspirational leaders from history. His work draws from a broad variety of stylistic influences, features imagery rich with symbolism and meaning, addresses stereotypical representations of black people, and tells powerful stories from his experience of the African diaspora.
Melancon was born in 1978 and grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. He was initially taught by a prolific Mardi Gras Indian elder named Big Chief Ferdinand Bigard. Melancon went on to study under Nathanial Williams in connection with a 1993 Louisiana Folklife Apprenticeship Grant. Melancon joined the Seminole Hunters and masked as a Spy Boy for over 15 years under Big Chief Keitoe Jones. In 2012 the elders of the Mardi Gras Indian community declared that Melancon would then be known as Big Chief Demond Melancon of the Young Seminole Hunters, his very own tribe based in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
DARRYL MONTANA is the Chief of the Yellow Pocahontas Hunters Black Masking Indian Tribe. According to the Chief, the New Orleans indigenous Black Indian movement of “masking Indian” on Carnival Day began in the late 1800’s in the Montana family. Hailing from a prominent family of Black Masking Indians and son of the Chief of Chiefs Allison “Big Chief Tootie” Montana, he uses sequins, beads, pearls, marabou, feathers and stones to create multi-dimensional Mardi Gras costumes for each year’s carnival in New Orleans. The techniques and use of materials have been passed down to him from his father. He began learning how to string beads at age six and made his first suit when he was eleven using a used vinyl raincoat as his canvas. His suits can take up to 5,000 hours to complete and they are created in response to themes like metamorphosis and evolution. He says that on Carnival day, “he is in full regalia representing a culture that unites the community around the tradition of masking and simply being the prettiest.” In addition to creating these massive pieces, Montana passes his techniques on to children and teaches them how to construct sculptural costumes. Montana’s work is in the public collections of the International Folk Art Museum and the Joan Mitchell Foundation and private collections of the late John Scott, Diego Cortez, Ron Bechet, and Mapo Kinnord-Payton, to name a few.
RONNEL BUTLER is a Flag Boy of the 9th Ward Black Hatchet Mardi Gras Indian tribe in New Orleans. The role of the Flag Boy is relay information from the Spy Boy to the Big Chief to alert the rest of the tribe when a rival tribe is approaching during ceremonial battle on Mardi Gras morning. The Flag Boy will also typically carry a large staff covered in rhinestones and feathers to use as a communication tool.
LLOYD KEELER (1958 – ) is a Spy Boy of the Apache Hunters Mardi Gras Indian tribe in New Orleans. The role of a Spy Boy within a tribe is to walk out ahead of the tribe on Mardi Gras morning to search for rival tribes. Once the Spy Boy sees a rival tribe, he will relay that information to the Flag Boy who typically uses a large staff to communicate with the Big Chief and the rest of the tribe.
AJAY MALLERY (1969 – ) is a Flag Boy of Golden Blades Mardi Gras Indian tribe in New Orleans.
CLIFTON “SPUG” SMITH (1986 – ) is a Flag Boy of the 9th Ward Black Hatchet Mardi Gras Indian tribe in New Orleans.