New Orleans is one of the most culturally rich cities in the world, so it’s only right that the city’s artists rose to the occasion when Red Bull and the Pelicans launched their community initiative #NOLAHasWiiings.
We journeyed to the Big Easy to witness firsthand the work of artist and writer Monique Lorden (who also uses the name @1985Poet).
Lorden described how she first learned of NOLA Has Wiiings in 2021, when visual artist Brandan ‘Bmike’ Odums, recruited her to be one of the artists taking part in the first iteration of the community initiative.
“I may have been one of the last people they approached to provide art,” Lorden told BOSSIP. “What we did was we took old, outdated, worn down basketball goals from different NORD parks around the city that needed to be replaced. They needed some love.”
“Once we got them down we took a look at them, the goals were not only massive and heavy but rusted and screws were missing,” Lorden continued. “You really wondered, ‘How were kids playing on these goals? How were people playing on them?’ Initially, when I was approached to do it, I started thinking of the wildest concepts, like what do I want to do with this canvas? This is completely different from any canvas that I’ve ever painted on so far, but not so different because I tend to create on the wildest surfaces. So it wasn’t this abstract kind of like ‘Okay it’s a basketball goal, what’s next? I knew that I could totally tackle it’ Perhaps because I’m an athlete at heart.”
“I’ve been playing basketball my entire life since I was 9. Playing park ball on those very same goals we took down, in high school and in summer ball and a little bit in college, so if you try to cross me up today I guarantee I’m going to break your ankles,” Lorden laughs.
She may sound like she’s kidding, but Lorden is just as serious about her game as she is about her craft AND her community and ultimately NOLA Has Wiings has become intrinsically tied to her legacy.
“This project felt like home, it felt like it was bringing me back to something I love, which is community and basketball,” Lorden adds.
Unbeknownst to the artists who took part in the first round of NOLA Has Wiiings, Red Bull added a competitive element by allowing the public to vote on their favorite backboard. When the votes were tallied, Lorden won by a landslide.
“People could vote on our goals, but we had no idea that it was a competition where we could win such a massive opportunity,” Lorden recalls. “I never shrink myself, but to truly be amongst powerhouses in the art game, I never ever fathomed that I would be the one to have acquired 700,000 votes. So much so that this year they decided, ‘We’re going to put a cap on how many times people can vote.’ Like, what?! I would have never thought that people were wearing out that vote button because of me.”
However, Monique’s work didn’t end with her victory. The prize for her winning turned out to be another gift for the city of New Orleans, and an opportunity for Lorden to leave her artistic mark on a court in the same area where her family has had ties for generations.
“Because I won that first competition, that win came with painting my own court,” Lorden told BOSSIP. “I got to choose the court that I wanted to create on, as well as the different artists for this year. So I curated this year’s NOLA Has Wiiings, which brought me so much joy, because most artists love creating, but we also love orchestrating and curating.”
“It was important for me to pick artists who I knew could tell a story in the most diverse and fun and, as you saw with those goals, the most bling-bling kinda way, so it was important for me to be that lead artist and paint that court, but also bring on artists, that I wanted them to be a part of something that’s way bigger than just us alone and that’s a community, that’s basketball, that’s the competition and everything that Nola Has Wiiings is proposing,” Lorden added.
“You can’t think of New Orleans without thinking about art,” Lorden said when we asked about the impact of visual arts in the city. “There is no separation between the two. It’s in the streets we second line on, it’s in the food that we eat, and it’s in the music we groove to. You can’t ever separate art from the city.”
Photos from the court at Stallings Recreation Center should offer a good idea of the MASSIVE undertaking with which Lorden was tasked. She stayed true to the color palette from her original NOLA Got Wiiings backboard but took a creative spin, inspired by her childhood.
“I wanted the court to complement the basketball goal that I painted,” Lorden said. “It’s very similar to the black and white stripes, and some of the bold colors. I knew that looking at the scale — you have a basketball goal and you have a massive court — it swallowed me up when I was painting it. How do you allow one to complement the other? So I knew I had to go big or go home. I thought, ‘Alright, I’m going to paint some lines and I’m going to create an illusion.’ I wanted you to feel like you’re going downhill and uphill, and that’s exactly what I did. I took it to the research and the drawing boards and said I’m going to figure out illusions. Not to sound nerdy but there is a whole science behind it.”
“Remember back in the day we would do the seek-and-find puzzles?” Lorden asked. “That was me. I was into that as a kid. So getting back to that as an adult, I realized that illusions are not symmetrical. There are little things that are off that draw your eye to it and confuse you a little bit. So I had to not just draw straight lines, but there was a strategy behind the way that I painted that court and how that court makes you feel when you’re on it.”
As you can see from the photos below the final result is stunning.
With the Stallings Recreation Center court now complete, Lorden has since launched more projects in the city, including the beautiful light installation you can see below.
Voting also recently concluded for the second iteration of NOLA Has Wiiings and Jacques Francis was revealed as the latest winner.
Monique describes Jacques’ backboard as “Very New Orleans. Very Hot Boy.”
While Francis won’t be painting a community court, he is being commissioned to design a basketball which will be produced and given out at Pelicans games as well as distributed to kids in the local community.