New Orleans is over 300 years old—a city full of magic and splendor—so it comes as no surprise that the Big Easy would serve as a hub of the arts for people around the world. However, native artists bring a passion to their art that illustrates their loyalty and deep love for the city. Terrance Osborne is one of those artists.
Osborne’s art gallery is located in the Lower Garden District on Magazine Street. As soon as you step into his gallery, you can smell lavender in the room; SZA and other R&B artists sing in the background as people venture in to admire the vivid colors in his paintings. He describes his art as “feel-good vibes,” a popular New Orleanian trope.
“This city is bursting with culture,” Osborne says. “If you don’t experience the culture, you must be half-dead.”
Osborne paints from a New Orleanian familiarity, meaning that his pieces portray second lines, historic locations in the city, and the over-arching theme of New Orleans: Southern hospitality. “I realized New Orleans is much like an island,” he says. “The customs are different here than anywhere else in the country. People don’t speak to you in other places—over here they do.”
Through his art, Osborne also demonstrates his allyship to the LGBTQ and HIV communities. He does not live with HIV; however, he supports people who are fighting HIV stigma by donating art pieces to a fundraiser event called Art Against AIDS. This fundraiser began with the help of local artists in the community who were creating ornaments for the holidays in support of HIV/AIDS funding in the city. Crescent Care—a well-respected organization in the community dedicated to supporting people living with HIV—hosts the event. This year, the gala will celebrate its 35th anniversary.
Unfortunately, New Orleans falls under the category of cities with higher HIV rates than other cities in the country. According to The Miami Times, approximately 19,000 people are living with HIV in Louisiana—and roughly half of that population has AIDS. The source also reports that although the Black population only makes up 32% of Louisiana, they represent 73% of new cases in the state. Baton Rouge—a city only an hour away from New Orleans—continues to be one of the cities with the highest new HIV cases in the country. In 2018, Baton Rouge ranked fourth in highest new HIV rates in the country. Experts fear that COVID-19 could make it harder for people to get tested for HIV and seek treatment, thus increasing new HIV rates in these two cities.
Osborne understands the connection between COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS, which is why he has also created art for the fight against COVID-19. He vividly remembers the fear instilled in his community when the AIDS epidemic first started, and he believes we should remember the past while we try to navigate the present. His most recent art piece is called, “Front Line.” This piece honors the frontline workers who are saving lives in hospitals during this current pandemic. The image represents a woman of color posing as Rosie the Riveter. He also chose to make the woman Latinx in honor of the Latinx community who helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He hopes the piece can bring people together as the city overcomes this new pandemic, especially considering his own personal journey back to his hometown.
Terrance Osborne graduated from the historically Black college Xavier University, which is located in New Orleans’ historic Black neighborhood, Hollygrove. He taught art at Alice Harte Elementary, on the other side of the Mississippi River, all before having to evacuate from “the storm,” also known as Katrina. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused $81 billion in damages, the costliest hurricane in U.S. history. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina also cost the lives of over 1,800 people—a mortality rate that’s still debated to this day. Experts admit that Louisiana officials never finished counting those who passed away from the natural disaster and its aftermath.
Osborne and his family evacuated to Atlanta for a few years before making their way back home. This domestic migration was very common for New Orleanians during this time, while many other native residents decided to stay and rebuild their beloved city. According to the National Academy of Sciences, over 1.5 million people evacuated the city, and 150,000 to 200,000 people stayed. Osborne’s decision to evacuate his home was not easy, but his return in 2007 and eventual gallery opening in 2017 proved fruitful for his community, thanks to the support of his wife, Stephanie, who runs the business end of his art profession. Still, he knows the city has a tough road ahead in dealing with the current pandemic, and is continuing to make art that reflects this shift.
“The deaths from these pandemics are tragic,” explains Osborne. “These viruses eat away at our culture.”
If you would like to purchase art from Terrance Osborne, please check out his website.