The Baby Dolls of New Orleans
Contributions by Jennifer Atkins, Vashni Balleste, Mora J. Beauchamp-Byrd, Ron Bechet, Melanie Bratcher, Jerry Brock, Ann Bruce, Violet Harrington Bryan, Rachel Carrico, Sarah Anita Clunis, Phillip Colwart, Keith Duncan, Rob Florence, Pamela R. Franco, Daniele Gair, Meryt Harding, Megan Holt, DeriAnne Meilleur Honora, Marielle Jeanpierre, Ulrick Jean-Pierre, Jessica Marie Johnson, Karen La Beau, D. Lammie-Hanson, Karen Trahan Leathem, Charles Lovell, Annie Odell, Ruth Owens, Steve Prince, Nathan "Nu'Awlons Natescott" Haynes Scott, LaKisha Michelle Simmons, Tia L. Smith, Gailene McGhee St. Amand, and Kim Vaz-Deville
Since 2004, the Baby Doll Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans has gone from an obscure, almost forgotten practice to a flourishing cultural force. The original Baby Dolls were groups of black women, and some men, in the early Jim Crow era who adopted New Orleans street masking tradition as a unique form of fun and self-expression against a backdrop of racial discrimination. Wearing short dresses, bloomers, bonnets, and garters with money tucked tight, they strutted, sang ribald songs, chanted, and danced on Mardi Gras Day and on St. Joseph feast night. Today's Baby Dolls continue the tradition of one of the first street women's masking and marching groups in the United States. They joyfully and unabashedly defy gender roles, claiming public space and proclaiming through their performance their right to social citizenship.
Essayists draw on interviews, theoretical perspectives, archival material, and historical assessments to describe women's cultural performances that take place on the streets of New Orleans. They recount the history and contemporary resurgence of the Baby Dolls while delving into the larger cultural meaning of the phenomenon. Over 140 color photographs and personal narratives of immersive experiences provide passionate testimony of the impact of the Baby Dolls on their audiences. Fifteen artists offer statements regarding their work documenting and inspired by the tradition as it stimulates their imagination to present a practice that revitalizes the spirit.