Last Fall, an apartment complex on the corner of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard and Jackson Avenue became the canvas of a vibrant mural. It now tells a story inspired by the late Theodore Emile “Bo” Dollis, who served as the Big Chief of the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians.
In the Spring of 2017, the developer of this renovated complex hired New Orleans resident and muralist Monica Kelly to create a public art display that would embody New Orleans’s Central City neighborhood.
“I felt really cautious going into this project,” Kelly said, initially nervous about telling a story of a neighborhood and culture that was unfamiliar to her. ”I encouraged my client to be open to something that would honor someone from the neighborhood.”
After researching iconic figures from Central City, Kelly found that Big Chief Bo Dollis once lived near Jackson Avenue. Kelly met with Big Chief Bo Dollis Jr. and his wife to design a mural concept that would pay homage to the late Big Chief.
Using aerosol paint, Kelly, along with her assistant, Chris Owen, and apprentices Taylor Milton and Jabrielle Coleman, designed this mural from June of 2017 to August of 2017.
The Central City mural depicts a jubilant Big Chief Bo Dollis in light blue masking. On top of his headdress is an image of Bo Dollis Jr. screaming a warrior cry, which Kelly describes as a released and pained expression. “It’s releasing the spirit of his father and assuming the power of his role,” she added.
“It was a really touching experience to share it with young people, to see neighbors smiling about this piece every day,” Kelly said. “It brings really good vibes to a corner that used to be desolate.”
Born in Philadelphia, Kelly moved to New Orleans in 2011. Her art career in New Orleans began with her creating signs for Whole Foods Market. She later found opportunities that would allow her to tell public stories.
“Residents in New Orleans value the handmade and handwriting because it feels human,” Kelly said. “New Orleans is one of the cities that are still human.”
Kelly plans to unveil a few public art installations throughout 2018. In the meantime, she hopes murals will become more common throughout the city, taking an approach similar to what has been seen in San Francisco.