September 20, 1978
New Orleans, LA
Young Seminole Hunters
Ninth Ward, New Orleans
DEMOND MELANCON (1978 – ) is a contemporary artist with extensive roots in the Black Masking Culture of New Orleans. With a career spanning almost three decades, Melancon is well-known for his meticulous hand-sewn beadwork used to create massive Mardi Gras Indian suits which are composed of intricately beaded patches depicting actual and imagined events from African and American history. His complex and multidimensional portrayals draw inspiration from indigenous people in America, enslaved Africans, and inspirational leaders from history. His work draws from a broad variety of stylistic influences, features imagery rich with symbolism and meaning, addresses stereotypical representations of black people, and tells powerful stories from his experience of the African diaspora.
Melancon was born in 1978 and grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. He was initially taught by a prolific Mardi Gras Indian elder named Big Chief Ferdinand Bigard. Melancon went on to study under Nathanial Williams in connection with a 1993 Louisiana Folklife Apprenticeship Grant. Melancon joined the Seminole Hunters and masked as a Spy Boy for over 15 years under Big Chief Keitoe Jones. In 2012 the elders of the Mardi Gras Indian community declared that Melancon would then be known as Big Chief Demond Melancon of the Young Seminole Hunters, his very own tribe based in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
He has been masking as a Mardi Gras Indian since 1992 and second-lining since he began to walk. Mr. Melancon is a multidisciplinary artist and performer with extensive roots in the Black Masking Culture of New Orleans. The artist is well-known for his meticulous hand-sewn beadwork, use of very small beads, and attention to details often combining various types of beads (opaque, transparent, matt, metallic) and a broad spectrum of colors for effect.
When Demond was 14 years old, he had the opportunity to learn from several influential elder Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs. They not only taught him how to sew and bead intricate suits, but also about the history and traditions of the Black Masking Culture of New Orleans – which began over 200 years ago. Prior to the Mardi Gras Indian elders declaring Demond would become the Big Chief of his very own tribe, he had become very well-known as being a fierce Spy Boy for the Seminole Hunters.
The role of the Big Chief is to command and lead the tribe during practices throughout the year and in ceremonial battles on Mardi Gras Morning. A Big Chief’s prestige is often not only measured by the beauty and intricacy of his suits, but also by his command and presence within the community.
Two factors that contribute to the technical difficulty the style of Mardi Gras Indian suits Demond creates are the massive size of the main aprons (the portion of a suit worn from the waist to the ankles) and the incredibly small size of the beads he uses to create them. Typically measuring at over 50 inches wide, Demond’s main aprons are also created using smaller size beads (referred to as size 11/0s which measure at 2.1 mm) than most other Mardi Gras Indians use. Because of the size of his suits coupled with his use of smaller beads, Demond’s suits generally take over 4,000 hours of sewing 1 million glass beads.