Date of Award

August 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

William W. Wood

Committee Members

Cheryl Ajirotutu, Zeda Johnson


Afrocentric Identity, Art of Anthropology, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs


Anthropologists have evaluated art as indices of culturally specific intentions that express the artist’s view of his or her social relations. New Orleans Festival Arts (NOFA) community is filled with art objects and other forms of cultural expression that express artists’ social relationships, historical contexts, and cultural beliefs. Social aid and pleasure clubs, Black Indians and other organizations orchestrate elaborate parades that incorporate costumes, street decorations, banners, music, dance and song. These artistic expressions index identity within the community. This research, based in New Orleans, Louisiana, is focused on the city’s vibrant Afrocentric community and its festival arts community. Using Alfred Gell’s theory of the anthropology of art, this research examines how art is used as an expression of African Diasporic Identity, agency, and a tool for social change. The Afrocentric community of New Orleans has been a part of the city’s landscape since the 1960’s and continues to thrive today. Although there is no exclusively Afrocentric group who practices NOFA, there are members of New Orleans Afrocentric community who play various roles creating art in NOFA settings. It is my argument that art can be used to examine the intersection of African Diasporic Identity and New Orleans Festival Arts to make sense of the behaviors of participants in the context of specific social relationships and historical contexts unique to New Orleans. Finally, this thesis examines how Afrocentric NOFA practitioners utilize art, symbolic language and performance to create change in their community. I seek to understand how art is used as a tool to construct and transmit identity, and how art empowers actors as they express their identity and address community concerns.