1000 People Fed to Lions
New Orleans, Louisiana
Demond Melancon was born and raised in the New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward. When Demond was 14 years old, he had the opportunity to learn from influential elder Big Chiefs who taught him not only how to sew and bead intricate suits, but also about the history and traditions of the Black Masking Culture of New Orleans. He was initially mentored by a prolific 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 Black Masking 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.
Melancon’s Suits are sculptural forms, based on the size of his body and composed of intricate, hand-sewn beadwork revealing a collective visual narrative. In 2017, Melancon pioneered a contemporary art practice using the same beading techniques he’s been refining over the past 30 years in the Black Masking Culture. Melancon’s work has been included in exhibitions at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art, Brooklyn, NY; Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, Kalamazoo, MI; Haus der Welt der Kulturen, Berlin; and the Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans, LA. His work is included in the collections of the International African American Museum, Toledo Museum of Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, LSU Museum of Art, and the Boston Art Club.
Joan Mitchell Center Residency, 2020
Joan Mitchell Fellowship, 2023
The imagery in my suits often reflects untold stories from bygone pasts, honoring Black subjects historically excluded from the artistic canon while confronting stereotypical representations of Black identity. Through my work, I'm interested in exploring the possibilities of visual storytelling and redefining the traditions of portraiture.”