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Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival takes up residency at the Louisiana State Museum

Goddess

Dance card for Les Mystérieuses (the first women’s krewe), 1900. LSM 10860.12. (All images provided by Louisiana State Museum)

The Louisiana State Museum, in partnership with the Krewes of Iris, Muses and Nyx, presents Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival, an exhibition which celebrates the progression and spirit of women’s Mardi Gras krewes in New Orleans from the 1890s to the present.

The exhibition will commemorate the centennial of the Krewe of Iris, the oldest and largest all-woman carnival organization in New Orleans. A goddess of the sky, Iris is known as both the Goddess of the Rainbow and the Messenger to the Gods. She travelled on golden wings as the swift minister of the gods across rainbows, vanishing as quickly as she appeared. The Krewe of Iris’s signature novelty throw is decorated sunglasses, chosen as they have never cancelled for inclement weather, fortune which they attribute to their namesake.

At the time of Iris’s founding in 1917, women from all backgrounds and classes campaigned for broader rights and expanded roles in public life. This included breaking into the male-dominated Mardi Gras scene, effectively carving out a new social arena for women which continues to grow with each Carnival season. The Krewes of Nyx and Muses are two 21st century all-women krewe additions; Nyx and Muses were founded in 2011 and 2000, respectively.

Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival features rare articles highlighting the Krewes of Iris, Nyx and Muses from the museum’s collection as well as from various lenders. Of exceptional significance is the earliest-known existing Iris queen’s dress, worn in 1941 by Irma Cazenave, wife of Count Arnaud Cazenave, on loan from Arnaud’s restaurant. This newly restored gown will be on display with five other costumes; two dozen original costume sketches from several krewes; rare photographs from the late 1800s and early 1900s; and ball favors, invitations and dance cards from the early 20th century. The exhibition also features original artwork inspired by the Muses and Nyx parades and the first decorated Muses shoe from their inaugural ride in 2001.

Open through December 2018, Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival is part of the Women of New Orleans: Builders and Rebuilders exhibition initiative of the nonprofit Nola4Women, launched in honor of New Orleans’ tricentennial. Visit nola4women.org for more information. Visit LouisianaStateMuseum.org for updates on exhibit-related programming.

 

Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at kelley@nolavie.com.