Backyards and Beyond: Mississippians and Their Stories is a powerful and moving merger of art, history and humanity, and is poised to act as a unique ambassador for Mississippi for many years to come.

This national exhibition featuring the works of acclaimed Mississippi artist, H.C. Porter, celebrates Mississippiansʼ amazing strength of spirit following Hurricane Katrina. In this exhibition, Porter beautifully weaves the faces and voices of diversity with commonalities of loss and hope. These powerful “environmental portraits” tell personal stories that promise to be an unforgettable experience.

Mississippi Power is sponsoring H.C. Porterʼs Backyards & Beyond Exhibition to be a permanent installation in the new Waveland Ground Zero Hurricane Museum.

The museum has eight original paintings from Porterʼs series, along with interactive floor slabs, the audio, video and images of the seventy-three other portraits from the original series, as a part of its permanent collection.  Through this exhibit, the voices and stories of these Mississippians will continue
to be heard for years to come.

Two and a half years in the making, the national premiere of Backyards & Beyond: Mississippians and Their Stories – the first year after Katrina opened to the public at the Mississippi Arts Center in downtown Jackson in March  2008.

Created by Mississippi artist, H.C. Porter, and collaborator, Karole Sessums, Backyards & Beyond, the interactive, nationally touring multi-media exhibition, celebrates the amazing adaptability and strength of spirit of Mississippians who are triumphing over the life-altering devastation of one of the greatest natural disasters in American history—Hurricane Katrina.

These powerful & moving environmental portrait paintings, each with the subject telling his or her own story directly to the viewer through audio guides, promise to be a total immersion experience that will be truly unforgettable.

Encouraged by her collectors nationwide, Porter began collecting documentary portraits and Sessums collected live field recordings of Mississippians two weeks after Hurricane Katrina left people in life situations which most of us will hopefully never face in our lifetime. They discovered Mississippians who wanted to tell their stories … and to have their stories heard.

Having dedicated her work to documenting the people of her home state for the past 16 years, she felt a distinct calling and an enormous responsibility to record, through her work, these historic images and stories. She soon found herself in the midst of the most challenging & rewarding project of her career.

Over a 12-month period immediately following Hurricane Katrina, Porter and Backyards & Beyond executive director, Karole Sessums, worked together to amass over 8,000 photographs and over 50 hours of field recordings of Porterʼs subjects. Although almost impossible to decide which images would become the paintings featured in the exhibition, the final 81 paintings are as diverse as the ways in which the people were coping.

The permanent exhibition also features the photographic floor installations that were taken by H.C. Porter & Gretchen Haien in August 2006, one year after Katrina. Originally the result of a collaborative effort between Porter, Haien and Karole Sessums, these photographic images of slabs appeared as part of the exhibition and publication Backyards and Beyond: Mississippians and Their Stories in 2008. These life-size sections of the foundational slabs were located in Waveland, Pass Christian and Long Beach. Viewers of the exhibition are encouraged to interact with them.

“I immediately realized the responsibility I felt looking through my camera lens that very first day in Pearlington,” says Porter. “As a social realist my work has always captured time and place, but suddenly I knew I was recording images that would forever represent a major American event … and it was right in my own backyard.”

“Sometimes the devastation is evident in the images: sometimes itʼs only suggested,” Porter muses. “This work reminds me of Van Goghʼs ʻthe Potato Eatersʼ and the Dust Bowl images of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Art can capture the human emotion trapped in a historic tragedy, and keep that emotion alive long after the news has passed it by.”

“I have always said, ʻPicasso saw cubes, Mondrian saw line and color, and I saw Millsaps Avenue in Jackson, Mississippi,ʼ” she explains. “Now I can add Howard Avenue in Biloxi, Main Street in Bay St. Louis, 2nd Avenue in Pass Christian … and so on.“

As one who lived for two years in a FEMA trailer, Mississippi state representative Diane Peranich wholly understands the importance of this exhibition. When asked to summarize her feelings about the show, she proudly responds, “This exhibition is not about misery – it is a testament to Mississippians, the goodness of humanity, volunteers nationwide and the resilience of Mississippi.”

Anthony Topazi, President & CEO of Mississippi Power, the initial founding sponsor for the exhibition adds, “These depictions of human beings surviving after the worst natural disaster in our countryʼs history will define Mississippiʼs Gulf Coast and its people for future generations.”

Backyards & Beyond compiles a moving and timeless experience that celebrates both art and humanity. “The opportunity to show the rest of this country, and the world, who we are as Mississippians is monumental, “ adds Backyards & Beyond executive director, Karole Sessums.

Backyards and Beyond along with it’s historic significance has an obvious relevancy, universal in content…the enduring Human Spirit in the midst of life’s greatest challenges and adversities.

There is healing in the telling…and the being heard. The character of a people and their ability to inspire others is often shown in times of greatest adversity. This is our opportunity.

Marsha Barbour our former first lady said of this project, “This exhibition speaks volumes about the character and grace of the magnificent people of our state.”