About The Drawer Speaks Project

A Youth Focused Interactive Art Project

FLOODWALL continues to gain international attention, as a multi-media exhibition in the United States and Europe. In honor of the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Floodwall would like to include the viewpoints of gulf region youth who have been affected by the storm. The Drawer Speaks Project intends to represent the views, stories, and “contents” of youth through the use of drawing, sculpture, photography and interactive technology.

The Drawer Speaks Project will help to supply youth from the gulf region the necessary materials and to make a drawer from a simple cardboard box. Students will be asked to recreate or illustrate a drawer currently in their home, or one that existed before Katrina. Using simple materials of cardboard, brown paper, and black markers, students will draw the cardboard box into a drawer and illustrate significant contents. The contents can represent items that they would bring if evacuated in the future, special artifacts that represent their family’s history, private possessions, or something that they might hide in a drawer.

Students are photographed while holding these drawers, capturing unique and telling portraits of the youth of the gulf region. Hundreds of images of the students and their drawers will be included in the interactive map of the Drawer Speaks website, bringing representation and sensitivity to the youth effected by Hurricane Katrina. The work will share a visual story that communicates across language and cultural barriers.  As the exhibition travels around the United States and Europe, there will be a outreach component organized to engage a local youth audience to participate in discovering the database and the gulf region youth documented. In this way, youth around the world will draw connections, deepen understanding and expand a world view through the universal language of image making.

Participation in The Drawer Speaks Project will support gulf region students in a process of personal investigation and expression, affecting views and opinions on a global scale. Students have the potential to see themselves and their work as contributors to a contemporary international art arena. The experience and opportunity will honor the youth involved, inspire their creativity and empower them as artists with potential to participate in an influential contemporary exhibition of global proportions.



A tribute to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina.

When Jana Napoli returned to New Orleans two months after Hurricane Katrina and the collapse of the levee system had ravaged her native city, she found the sodden and damaged remnants of people’s lives cast out on the sidewalks.  Though they were signs of a painful salvaging of life by returning inhabitants taking stock of their homes, they represented as well the radical obliteration of their past.  Every day for the next four months, Napoli wandered amid the rotting and moldy debris of the city’s neighborhoods, first instinctively and then deliberately, gathering household drawers.  The more than 700 drawers that she retrieved, from dressers, kitchen cabinets, desks and bureaus, empty of their contents but suffused with memories, are the bricks of this installation.

Napoli constructs her installation in three ways.  When it stands as a wall, 8 feet tall and stretching as much as 192 feet, Floodwall is a monument of immeasurable loss; when it lies in serried array on the floor like tombstones in a cemetery, it is a memorial, a sentinel of the past; and when it is configured as a room that envelops the spectator in close intimacy, it has the unutterable loneliness of deep mourning.  At all times, this is Napoli’s floodwall against the erasure of the ordinary people and the everyday rhythms of life from which great cities are formed.

If the floodwalls of the levee system did not contain the rising waters, this one does not restrain its city either.  Its stories spill out of these empty drawers still redolent with the textures of daily life — quotidian systems of order, sly and delicious secrets, dusty neglect, absent-minded forgetfulness, beloved mementos and childhood treasures.  Napoli labeled each drawer with the address from which it was retrieved.  Over the past three years, she and her colleague, Rondell Crier, have numbered, photographed and catalogued each drawer to create an interactive database which contains information about its condition, its provenance as well as the fate of the flooded household from which it was discarded.  They have also begun to collect oral histories from the original drawer owners, a project that is on-going and grows daily wider with the migration of New Orleanians to other parts of the country.  The audio recordings of these interviews form part of the exhibition, releasing poignant yet unsettling presences into this immense installation of aching absence.

For more information about FLOODWALL and to access the interactive database please visit www.floodwall.org


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Educator Testimonials

Educator Jana Hallas, who has led a DrawerSpeaks Workshop in her school, sends us some inspiring words.

Click here to read her letter.

Current Exhibitions

We would love to have you host a Drawer Speaks Exhibition or workshop at your museum or institution.

Please contact Channel Thomas at drawerspeaks@gmail.com for more information.

Teacher Information Packet
and Lesson Plan

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