“Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival” puts women at the forefront of Mardi Gras history at the Louisiana State Museum’s Presbytere

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“IRIS AND THE GODDESSES OF CARNIVAL”
WHAT: Louisiana State Museum presents an exhibition celebrating the history of all-female Carnival krewes as Iris marks its centenary
WHEN: Opens Fri. (Feb. 10); runs through December 2018
WHERE: The Presbytere (751 Chartres St.)
MORE INFO: Visit the Louisiana State Museum website

One of the most anticipated features of the 2017 Carnival season will examine the feminine mystique when the Louisiana State Museum (LSM) opens its “Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival” exhibition on Friday (Feb. 10) at the Presbytere.

Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival Exhibition from LaStateMuseum on Vimeo.

The exhibition, produced with the support of krewes of Iris, Muses and Nyx, will, among other things, use the centennial commemoration of Iris to explore the evolution of female krewes, from the 1890s to contemporary Carnival — which has seen an explosion of the concept over the past two decades. There will be rare artifacts from the LSM’s vast collection, but also will include pieces from outside lenders, including what is considered the earliest-known existing queen’s dress of Iris that was worn in 1941 by Irma Cazenave — spouse of Count Arnaud Cazenave. The dress has been provided on loan from Arnaud’s restaurant.

“The Krewe of Iris boldly paved the way for other women’s krewes,” said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said in the press release. “The tremendous surge in participation in Mardi Gras by women is a testament to their success.”

Iris is named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow. When it was founded back in 1917, the women’s suffrage movement was in full swing, and the right to vote was just a couple years away. The emergence of Iris came after two decades of New Orleans women’s work to establish Carnival organizations. Les Mystérieuses, the first of its kind, premiered with a ball in 1896. While the more recent emergence of such noted all-female krewes as Muses, Nyx and Femme Fatale will be noted, “Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival” will fill in the major gap in between — including a look at the first women’s parade, held by the Krewe of Venus in 1941.

(Check out images and other artifacts from the exhibition here.)

There also will be references to long-lost krewes such as “the Mittens, the Mystic Maids, Empyreans, Titanians and more,” the press release noted. “Long-lived parading krewes such as Shangri-La, Rhea and Cleopatra will provide another important part of the chronicle of women and carnival. Original tableau ball artworks executed by Spangenberg Studios; paintings inspired by the Iris, Muses and Nyx parades; and the very first Muses shoe from their inaugural 2001 parade will make this exhibition sparkle with the spirit of the many women’s krewes that have left their mark on carnival history.”

Some of the fun facts and highlights of the exhibition, courtesy of the museum, include:

  • Named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow, the Krewe of Iris is the oldest women’s carnival organization in New Orleans. At the time of its 1917 founding, men’s groups ruled Mardi Gras festivities, sponsoring all of the parades and most of the balls. But just 
as women campaigned for the vote and sought expanded roles in public life, they also carved out new social spaces. Iris built upon two decades of women’s efforts to create carnival organizations.
  • Over the course of the next century, more women’s krewes joined the fun, from numerous societies in the early 1900s to 21st century parading clubs, such as Muses, Nyx and Femme Fatale. Iris and the Goddesses of Carnival will offer a detailed overview of that history, highlighting the first women’s parade, held by the Krewe of Venus in 1941, and the now-forgotten krewes of years past, including the Mittens, the Mystic Maids, Empyreans, Titanians and more. Long-lived parading krewes such as Shangri-La, Rhea and Cleopatra will provide another important part of the chronicle of women and carnival.
  • 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’s tricentennial. Visit nola4women.org for more information. Visit LouisianaStateMuseum.org for updates on exhibit-related programming.

The exhibition will run at the Presbytere through December 2018.

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