Artist, educator discusses challenges in New Orleans

On Thursday March 1, visiting artist and educator Steve Prince presented “Second Line: The Art of Social Justice,” a lecture featuring his artwork, reflections on social issues in America and challenges facing New Orleans, La.

Prince is a New Orleans native who earned his master of fine arts degree from Michigan State University and is currently an assistant professor at Montgomery College in Maryland. He discussed how his roots in Louisiana and the catastrophic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina inspire his work and his worldview.  

Prince shared a series of black-and-white prints full of symbolic imagery derived from the rich history, religions and cultures of New Orleans. He said that he predominantly uses his art as a vehicle to tackle serious topics such as the lack of post-Katrina activism, the AIDS epidemic and social injustices worldwide.

According to Prince, the “second line” referred to in the title of the lecture alludes to the dancers who informally accompany a traditional New Orleans brass parade. Prince utilized the allusion to dance in his presentation, livening the audience by playing jazz music and dancing.

English professor Beth McCoy, a longtime friend of Prince’s, was responsible for bringing Prince to Geneseo after she reconnected with him and his wife over the summer via social networking.

“I had known [Prince] almost 20 years, and I had known that he was an artist, but when I saw his artwork on Facebook it just took my breath away,” McCoy said.

McCoy said she was struck by two prints in particular, entitled “Flambeau” and “Katrina’s Dirge,” both of which were shown in Prince’s presentation.

McCoy has been teaching a course titled “Voices and Perspectives: Hurricane Stories” since 2008, which focuses on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. She said that she sees Prince’s lecture as a natural complement to the themes she discusses in that class as well as those interrogated in history professor Joe Cope’s “Humanities and Disaster” course.

“My work is all about community, and what I’m talking about intersects with all our lives,” Prince said. “Diversity is really at the heart of it. I’m sure I exponentially touched many lives today, and I’m also being transformed by being here.”

“My work had a message, and I hope the students can see beyond just the aesthetics of my art,” he said.

“Students, faculty and staff enjoyed being guided through the dense imagery. I think they also enjoyed being invited and challenged to be world changers by [Prince,]” McCoy said.

“It was absolutely fantastic,” senior Abigail Boateng said. “The art seemed to come to life in the little details.”

“You can see that [Prince’s] work is interactive with his incorporation of the spiritual world and his life,” junior Soraya Holly said. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

During his time at Geneseo, Prince also led a printmaking workshop for students and faculty, which focused on themes of healing and loss.

Prince’s art has been shown nationally and internationally in various solo, group and juried exhibitions. He has also created a number of public artworks including sculptures placed throughout Virginia.