In The Studio goes to Mardi Gras!

BBC World Service

Fine artist Demond Melancon, 40, is the Big Chief of the Young Seminole Hunters tribe.

For the last 200 years, Black Masking Indians have paraded on Fat Tuesday in New Orleans. Today it’s a sacred subculture steeped in mystery, with 38 unique tribes who come out to strut their stuff to the beat of drums and hypnotic chanting voices. This is wearable, sculptural art. And it’s highly competitive – a spiritual battle of needles and threads for the most daring and extravagant suit

Known as a “Master Beader” Demond was taught traditional sewing techniques by tribal elders age 14. His intricate hand-made 14 piece tribal suits are made with millions of glass beads just 2mm wide, and trimmed with plumes of ostrich feathers.

It’s won him worldwide acclaim and Demond’s now a rising star of the contemporary art scene. He also creates beaded portrait work, and is represented by Arthur Roger the top contemporary gallery in New Orleans. Demond is part of an exciting movement of African Diasporan artists breaking into the top tier art world. His work has been displayed at the V&A in London, Princeton University, Bergdorf Goodman in New York, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art in Brooklyn – and this December at Art Basel Miami.

We catch Demond at a critical moment in the process of making his 2020 mardi gras suit. For Demond, sewing is spiritual. He calls it the Needle Dance. Getting up at 5.30am, he works in his studio until midnight almost every night.

We also talk to him about his designs for 2021 Mardi Gras – which he’ll start sewing the day after Fat Tuesday 2020.

Produced by Victoria Ferran

Broadcast Date:  June 2020